Emergency responders unaffected by blackout

Jan. 26, 2010, 12:02 a.m.

Power failure poses no threat to University emergency plan

Last week’s power outage, while inconveniencing many, also provided a test for Stanford’s emergency response routines.

University life was placed on a brief standby when a Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) Company high-voltage transmission line failed at approximately 5:20 a.m. Tuesday morning and triggered a power outage across the central campus. Responders did not correct the problem until approximately 10 a.m. that morning.

The transmission line failure also caused Stanford’s Energy Facility, also known as Cardinal Cogen, to shut down, resulting in a blackout in some campus residences. As a result, all card-activated doors in the affected Wilbur, Stern and Crothers residences were rendered functionless during that period.

This, however, did not pose a significant problem for a well-prepared emergency response team.

“In the case of a power outage, such as occurred last Tuesday, the building access systems in place on many of our large residences are supported by independent battery back-up systems,” wrote Executive Director of Student Housing Rodger Whitney in an e-mail to The Daily. “These batteries keep the card readers functioning normally for approximately four hours without electricity. In a few places, where the power had failed earlier in the morning, the readers did go out before the power was restored. In those situations, Student Housing posted notices alerting residents needing to enter the buildings that they should use the main entrance, and had someone stationed at each of those doors to let people in.

“In the case of an emergency in a building without card access, the first responders (Fire, Police) gain access via a special (physical) key,” Whitney added.

Cardinal Cogen also supplies the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital and the Stanford Hospital with chilled water for cooling electrical equipment and computers, and steam for sterilizing instruments. But Cogen was shortly restored, and Stanford resumed supplying steam and chilled water shortly thereafter.

“When I came to work at 8 o’clock, we were at full power,” said Robert Dicks, senior media relations manager at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.

The SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, which gets its power directly from the PG&E line, remained without power until Tuesday evening. As such, the University generators provided SLAC with electricity until power was restored.

“The electricity affects us differently and that’s because of the linear accelerator, which uses quite a bit of electricity,” said Robert Brown, director of communications at SLAC.

Because of this, staff at SLAC are currently working on an “after-action” report to document what they’ve learned and devise a strategy for dealing with future crises.

Whitney added that because power outages like last Tuesday’s have widespread consequences across the campus, they receive a rapid response.

“The campus power system supports not only Student Housing, but also the entire academic campus (with labs containing sensitive experiments, classrooms without natural light, etc.), so any time there is a power outage, significant efforts are put into getting the situation resolved as soon as possible,” Whitney said.“It is not often that we lose power from the Cardinal Cogen plant, and when a problem does develop, it is usually resolved quickly.”

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