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Extended power outage at Mills

Halie Johnson

Mills Campus Facilities is still working despite the inclement weather to get the campus fully online after a power outage Saturday morning left a third of campus without electricity for the rest of the day.

Several buildings are now running on generators, and power will hopefully be restored by the end of the week, said Paul Richards, director of campus facilities.

Mills is powered on four circuits, called “radials” because they function like spokes on a wheel. Radial one, which powers about one-third of campus, including residence halls Mary Morse, Ethel Moore, the Prospect Hill apartments and parts of Faculty Village, suffered a failure of its high-voltage transformers at 2 a.m. on Saturday morning, according to Richards.

The Mills emergency preparedness task force purchased flashlights and glowsticks and distributed them throughout the affected residences that afternoon. They also ordered cots in the event that students had to be relocated to Orchard Meadow and Warren Olney for the night, said Associate Dean of Students Kennedy Golden. Power was restored to affected residences via generators at approximately 7:30 p.m.

Residents of Ethel Moore, Mary Morse and Prospect Hill who stayed on campus through Thanksgiving break or returned to campus Saturday were without heat or hot water for most of the day.

Dealing with the lack of hot water and light was very frustrating, said first-year graduate student Shilpa Arora, who lives in Mary Morse. It’s the week before finals, she said, so “everything makes people frazzled.”

Some students had a more pragmatic approach to the power failure.

“Power outages happen all the time,” said junior Leah Albin, who also lives in Mary Morse. “If I were at a different school, it could be happening there.”

Since Saturday, Campus Facilities has been working with Hi Voltage Splicing Company to excavate the vicinity of the Oval, doing emergency repairs and replacing the damaged parts. Richards said that the extent of the damage is not yet fully known.

The failure also caused damage to power lines and junctions up and downstream from the location, said Richards, who said that the failure was due to the age of the equipment and continued use over the years.

Richards stressed that the buildings now running on generator power have only partial service and that people must conserve power. “Please, shut off everything that doesn’t have to be on.”

Another power outage occurred on Monday night at approximately 11:30 p.m. Campus Facilities restored power within two hours. The generators shut down due to low fuel, said Richards, who added that it would not happen again.

Mills is currently renovating its power system and upgrading equipment to meet modern standards of safety and longevity, said Richards. There are plans to create an electrical loop instead of maintaining the old radial system, so that in case of another failure facilities can route power from other parts of campus while isolating the problem area.

The Mills emergency preparedness task force is also discussing placing an emergency kit with each resident assistant that would contain flashlights, glowsticks and other emergency equipment to make distribution to students much more efficient, said Dean of Students Joanna Iwata.

The power failure was unrelated to one that occurred two weekends ago, which was a PG&E problem, said Richards.