Two-thirds of campus blacks out for hour

by Mary Katherine Flanigan | 11/17/05 6:00am

The College lost power for more than an hour Wednesday evening, leaving students running through the rain clutching cellular phones and frantically searching for lighted buildings.

The power outage was caused by a large tree branch that fell on a primary power line off Route 20 at 5:30 p.m., affecting 79 customers who went without power for an hour and six minutes, a spokesperson for local utility National Grid said.

The College's 35 emergency generators and numerous battery-powered lights kicked in across campus immediately after the power went out. The west part of campus, which includes the River residential cluster and the Tuck School of Business, as well as Main Street, did not lose power because they run on a different power grid, according to Frank Roberts, the College's director of operations.

Dartmouth has the unique position of producing a substantial amount of the power used on campus through its own heating plant. To supplement this electricity, the College also receives power via transmission from National Grid. Last night after the branch fell and knocked out power to National Grid, the Dartmouth system recognized this malfunction and severed ties with the utility, said Bill Riehl, the College's heating plant manager.

Dartmouth has had power outages in the past, but none in recent memory have lasted this long. After National Grid dispatched crews to the scene and removed the tree, the College was still unable to restore power to the campus.

"Normally once their system stabilizes we can re-close the circuit and restore power to Dartmouth. This time we had problems re-closing the breaker and needed time to troubleshoot. This is what caused a power disruption to two-thirds of campus for an extended period of time," Riehl said.

Despite the breaker problem, Dartmouth was still able to make use of its own power and allocate its limited resources among certain buildings on campus based on a priority system. Those buildings with the highest priority numbers receive power from the Dartmouth plant. Moore Hall and Rauner library are among the buildings with high priority numbers. While dorms usually have low priority numbers, Hitchcock Hall received full power because it is on the same feeder as other buildings with high priority.

The power outage forced students out of their dorm rooms and into the emergency lighted hallways. Other students went in search of quiet lighted study areas, only to find most conditions unsatisfactory. Some headed to the dining halls and found long lines and frustrated students hoping for a break from schoolwork.

Thayer Dining Hall and the Hopkins Center Courtyard Cafe, both of which run completely on electric power, were unable to provide meals for students during the normal dinner hour. Collis has three gas burners and was able to provide food for a limited number of students. The registers and scales, however, work on electricity, so employees were forced to record transactions by hand.

"We've got a line out the door for pasta. We can't cook it fast enough. I'm going to have 10 pages of charges to put in manually," Collis employee Eleanor Cassady said.

While power has been restored and dining halls have resumed full operation, there are still some lingering problems to be resolved.

"In certain buildings we have to manually reset different breakers. That is an ongoing process. We also need to check controls everywhere to make sure they're working properly and check that all the fire alarms are sill working properly," Roberts said.

Students expressed frustration about balancing their busy schedules of schoolwork and meals amid the confusion and shutdown of College services.

"I think that everything that was due tomorrow should be due the day after tomorrow, and we should be reimbursed for having to eat off campus," Jeni Petrova '06 said.

Other students welcomed the distraction and the unexpected time they got to spend with friends after being forced out of their dorms.

"These things happen. It was inconvenient, but I don't think I'm particularly annoyed. It gave me a chance to take a study break," Jennifer Miranda '06 said.

According to Roberts, the time the College could function without power depends on the building and type of generator. Generators can last as long as a day or more depending on the size of the fuel source and the building to which they are connected. If there is a building without an emergency generator, battery-powered lights would die out in approximately two hours.