So two times today, power failed at UBC. The first time was around 1 in the afternoon. Sebastian, from my plant genetics class recounted to me that someone else in his lab had lost 100 PCR reactions that had been in the thermocycler due the 20-minute outage. I sympathized absently, and wondered how much money of wasted taq that was. When the second outage hit, at 7:25, I was in the lab myself, waiting for some media to cool. Being in the basement, it went pitch black. According to the EOS facilities manager, a transformer failed in the afternoon, and the power was rerouted to another one. But according to his email this afternoon, there was no guarantee that it wouldn’t happen again.

I noticed a few things:

  • UBC has no auxiliary power to the labs in the biology building. Only a few hallways had some lights.
  • The incubators in which our experiments reside have no automatic backup. Neither do our freezers, including the -70. There are numerous fish labs in the bio building. Prolonged lack of refrigeration could get ugly.
  • The SUB was completely dark
  • Many windows in Gage seemed to have mysterious sources of light. By contrast, the windows in the new condos behind Gage were brightly lit as normal.
  • the bus loop has no emergency lights
  • People love it when stuff goes wrong. It seems like we just wait for problems, however mundane (or maybe, especially mundane), as long as they’re a little bit universal. Everyone on the incredibly packed bus home was in the most elated mood: seats were shuffled to the most deserving-looking people promptly; if you swayed, you would be grabbed and stabilized from a couple directions; pleasantries and smiles were exchanged.
  • Simple phones, with no additional functions, are good. You can still dial by them feeling around in total darkeness.

Where does the power on campus come from? Is plant ops in charge of it? How come the new condos have better backup power than research labs? How many thousands of dollars will it cost when the power surge destroys all manner of expensive electronics in labs all over campus (not to mention the wasted taq!)? Any enlightenment would be most welcome.


9 Comments so far

  1. Fire Hydrant on November 7, 2007 8:43 am

    Power to the academic part of campus is handled by UBC Utilities, not Plant Ops, but I was led to believe that the second outage was on the Hydro side, before UBC’s property line, due to arcing on a power pole. I was told this by Security, who may or may not be reliable. But they had a pretty accurate estimate of when it would come back on.

    Anyway, I’m told there are four power lines through the park. There’s one at the golf course to serve the UEL. There’s one above ground down the median on 16th, then heading through the park to the back of Acadia, for UBC. There’s one that goes through the forest from Dunbar and comes out near TRIUMF (above ground, also for us), and the fourth is underground on 16th, for the non-institutional residents, and operated by BC Hydro. Residents in the non-institutional neighbourhoods are on their own separate grid, which is newer and more reliable than ours.

    Backup power is done building-by-building, and the schemes vary. Most newish buildings have a large diesel generator (one or two are greener than diesel), most older buildings (e.g. SUB) have battery-operated lights that are off so long as they’re plugged in to power. Hennings has these in the labs, but most of the batteries have been dead for over a decade. The intent is to provide just enough light that you can move through the building, operate electronic locks, fire alarms, and other crucial life-protection things (but not fumehoods), and basically nothing else. In really new buildings, the phones are VOIP, so the network hardware has to be powered to allow 911 calls.

    If a lab has equipment that’s critical to its research, that lab is expected to invest in an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). How badly do you need that freezer to stay at -70? Badly enough to buy what amounts to a cubic foot of batteries to keep it going? There are groups in my building that have done this.

    My lab was extremely fortunate to avoid having to replace $1000-2000 worth of elements in one furnace, but we’ll have other losses.


  2. Alfie on November 7, 2007 10:41 am

    it was just funny that when I was about to leave campus, the fun just started. good timing…

  3. Anonymous on November 8, 2007 12:45 am

    the AUS bzzr garden was shrouded in darkness for a full 2 hours. it was awesome. lots of drinking.

  4. Blake on November 8, 2007 6:40 am

    I thought it was fantastic that the power outages occurred. I mean this aside from the costly problems that arose, such as those mentioned by Darren and Maayan. When I lived in Cuba, there were many nights when the power failed throughout the entire town and those were some of the best times during my stay. The reason I say this is that during power outages, we are forced to put aside our electronics and busy lives and are forced to talk to each other, simply because there is nothing else to do. I obviously realize that being able to have good conversations is not inconsistent with there being power, but there is something really special when everything stops at once and people simultaneously turn to one another for discussion.

  5. Alex Lougheed on November 8, 2007 9:42 am

    It appears the Ladha Centre is under the non-“newish” power scheme. The entire centre has about three backup battery-powered lights (which do have new batteries too), strategically placed right outside the bathrooms. Nothing on the bottom level, though. One of the front doors permanently locked during the outage, and the other was openable by FOB key.

    The curiosities of that building both confuse, and amuse me.

    Also, this has taught me to invest in candles.

  6. Peter on November 8, 2007 8:35 pm

    Most of the time on my way home (Gage) from my meeting, which was held in near-darkness from 7pm to 8:30, all I could think of was just how awesome playing Capture the Flag would be on campus with NO POWER.

    No street lights, no ambient lighting, no nothing.
    Just ninjas.
    And bright glow sticks for flags.
    Flashlights would also be allowed.
    It’d be bad-ass.
    We’ll see what we can do in term 2, eh Alex? Maybe host it at the golf course? :D

    But yeah, in Gage I was deathly afraid that all my refrigerated food stuff would go bad. This would have been especially terrible, because Tuesday was 10% off at Safe Way… thus, I had just spent a whole whack-load of moolah on perishables in my freezer. Boo UBC power. Boo.

    But its true that a lack of computers and internet brings people together. Case in point: playing candle-lit Scrabble. Something that I can only assume last happened when the Dinosaurs were still around.

  7. Anonymous on November 8, 2007 9:10 pm

    Yesterday there were two electrical service disruptions to the main campus of the university (South Campus was unaffected). Both were unusual and rare events. At this time there is no indication that the two disruptions were related.

    All this was the “official” explanation.

    Alex Etchell

    The first disruption which started at approximately 1:20 in the afternoon occurred at the main campus UBC substation. Power was restored approximately 15 minutes later. This disruption was the result of a protective relay tripping due to a high current load. This is the first time this situation has occurred. The relay has been adjusted and we are reviewing the system implications to avoid any future re-occurrence.

    The second disruption occurred at 7:12 PM. Power was restored approximately two hours later at 9:23 PM. The source of this service disruption was from BC Hydro. Specifically, BC Hydro needed to isolate both incoming transmission lines to the campus as a result of a pole top fire which occurred on the BC Hydro transmission line in Pacific Spirit Park. UBC Utility electricians were able to isolate our system such that BC Hydro could reenergize one of their transmission lines, restoring power to the campus.

    BC Hydro completed their repairs to the second transmission line today at 2:30PM November 7th . The campus is now back to its normal electrical service configuration.

  8. Reka on November 9, 2007 7:14 am

    My favourite part was when during the first power outage, when a girl in my office got a text message from UBC on her phone from the newfangled emergency response system, saying “power outage across UBC campus” or something like that.

    … and then that was followed-up today when I got an e-mail from UBC asking me to register my cell phone number in the SSC (and be entered for a free iPod touch). Whee!

    I guess the original cellphone mass-messaging plan didn’t have the uptake they wanted.

  9. Sunshine on November 12, 2007 6:06 pm

    interesting, I did register my cell phone with UBC, but I never got a text message!

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