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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Power outage zaps campus

    Students file out of Room 100 of the Social Sciences building after their instructor did not appear during the power outage yesterday morning.
    Students file out of Room 100 of the Social Sciences building after their instructor did not appear during the power outage yesterday morning.

    A nearly hour-long power outage and intermittent relapses stunned campus yesterday morning, foiling students as they wrote papers and dressed, paralyzing parking garages and shutting down business in the student unions and on East University Boulevard.

    The outage struck at about 10:30 a.m. after a contractor for Tucson Electric Power accidentally severed a cable while in a substation north of downtown, said Joe Salkowski, a TEP spokesman.

    At that point, power was cut off for 35,000 people living in a 150-square mile area that stretched north-south from East Tangerine Road to East 22nd Street and east-west from North Alvernon Road to North Camino de la Tierra, he said.

    The university was affected campuswide, regaining power initially after about 50 minutes and losing it again for minute-long periods thereafter. By 12:40 p.m., the city was back on line, Salkowski said.

    UA Alert, the campus emergency text messaging system, sent out two messages minutes after the outage began.

    The power loss baffled students, faculty and staff.

    “”People were really annoyed,”” said Makenzie Wiegand, a nursing sophomore who lives in Posada San Pedro Residence Hall. “”People couldn’t get their work done before class, and it was hard to get ready in the dark.””

    Staff in the UA Main Library struggled to block doors and keep students from entering the dark building. When the power went out, patrons were forced to leave the building, some in the middle of writing papers on the Manuel T. Pacheco Integrated Learning Center computers.

    “”Most of our services like sensors, computers and check-out machines were rendered inoperable,”” said Travis Teetor, a library operations supervisor. “”Because of the security issue and the safety concerns of people in the dark, we were forced to kick people out.””

    BY THE NUMBERS

    10:30-11:20
    50-minute span in the morning during which the campus initially lacked power yesterday, with brief relapses

    7
    Number of parking garages whose gates, disabled, could not regulate vehicles entering and exiting

    7
    Upper estimate of number of individuals stuck in elevators due to the outage

    35,000
    Estimated number of Tucson residents who
    lost power

    150
    Area, in square miles, affected

    12:40
    Time in the afternoon at which power was fully
    restored to the affected area

    “”We have to worry about people stealing books,”” said Liz Thomas, a math junior on the library staff, as she diverted students away from the main doors of the building.

    Carlos Gonzalez, an anthropology senior, attends the UA South campus in Sierra Vista and drove to the main campus to work on a research paper.

    “”This is a big-time inconvenience,”” he said.

    About six or seven individuals were stuck in elevators around 11 a.m. and were safely rescued, said Christopher Kopach, associate director of Facilities Management, adding that most of the incidents occurred in buildings north of campus.

    Journalism adjunct instructor Jim Patten had lost power in his home in northwest Tucson before coming to campus and expressed frustration when he realized the breadth of the situation.

    “”I know the elevators aren’t working, and without computers I am not sure how we are supposed to have class,”” he said.

    Some teaching assistants and professors kept on lecturing in the dark, while exam periods pushed on.

    “”We were in one of the auditoriums, and it was completely dark,”” said Mark Nash, a pre-business freshman who took a test in a NATS 101 course. “”We just waited until those other lights – I think they are the emergency lights – came on, and we had to finish our test.””

    His brother, Ian, a sociology junior, said he intended to go to the ILC to work, “”but it was crazy.””

    “”Just to think, all those kids lost whatever they were working on,”” he said. “”All that work was lost.

    “”I live near campus, and I’m kinda worried about the stuff in my house, like in my fridge because it’ll go bad and what are we supposed to do about that?””

    Staff at Campus Health Service said they were slowed down but that all their critical systems and laboratory refrigerators, which contained vaccines and medications, remained running on auxiliary power.

    With computers down, doctors and nurses had to resort to paper medical records. The outage put the pharmacy a half-hour behind on processing, which led to increased stress once service resumed.

    “”We were inconvenienced but still able to function,”” said Terri West, an administrative associate. “”We plan and run drills for situations like these, but we were lucky it didn’t last very long.””

    University Medical Center was unaffected at first but also eventually lost power, leading officials to switch to emergency generators, said spokeswoman Katie Riley.

    UMC remained on the generators despite occasional fluctuations after the UA regained power, as a precaution, she said.

    Business came to a halt in the student unions and on East University Boulevard for the duration of the first major outage.

    Eateries in the Student Union Memorial Center evacuated their food storage in favor of below ground refrigerators running on a generator, said marketing director Nick Adamakis.

    The unions lost thousands of dollars from lost business, he said, adding that an exact figure would not be available for at least a day.

    No meal plans were affected by the loss in computer service, he said.

    Pita Pit on East University Boulevard stayed closed until 1 p.m. and consequently missed its lunch crowd, amounting for about a third of its average daily business, said employee Erick Bartelmann.

    Silver Mine Subs lost more than 50 loaves of bread that were in the oven when power ceased, and ended up canceling its delivery service, said owner Jeff Jones.

    With their typical food sources shored up around midday, students flocked to vendors working at the Sustainability Fair on the UA Mall.

    “”Everybody is like, ‘Where can we get food?'”” said business economics senior Casper Peterson, who participated in the fair as a member of Blue Chip. “”It’s the worst time of the day for this to happen.””

    Not everyone was upset about the outage. Without power, all the UA-area parking garages featured open gates, allowing students to leave without paying.

    Students rushed to get their vehicles out before the power was turned back on, wielding smiles and a pace as if they just robbed a bank.

    “”We probably did OK,”” said Bill Davidson, marketing specialist for PTS. “”If (money) was lost, it probably was minimal. We had people monitoring and controlling the situation.””

    Power returned to every garage, although gates in the Park Avenue and Tyndall Avenue parking garages lost function intermittently throughout the afternoon, he said.

    With lights out, traffic was congested around campus, and the University of Arizona Police Department was forced to direct traffic at major intersections like East Sixth Street and North Campbell Avenue.

    No significant crimes occurred during or as a result of the outage yesterday, said Sgt. Eugene Mejia, public information officer for UAPD.

    Employees in the offices of the registrar and financial aid were forced to simply pass time on the ground level of the Administration building.

    Student records and schedules were not affected by the outage, said senior associate registrar Beth Acree.

    Acree was speaking with a reporter in an office shortly after power returned when suddenly the floor’s lights died again for approximately two minutes.

    The work day, delayed once more.

    Smiling, Acree remarked, “”So much of what we do is on the computer.””

    – Dan Sullivan, Heather Trujillo and Cody Calamaio contributed to this story

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