Power outage shocks UNI campus



Due Vu, senior computer science major, sits in the Maucker Union computer lab, which was just one of the several computer labs that suddenly shut down on Monday night as the result of a campus-wide power outage

CLINTON OLSASKY, Executive Editor | [email protected]

On Monday, September 12, UNI experienced a campus-wide power outage shortly after 6 p.m., which lasted for approximately 48 minutes, according to Physical Plant Director Michael Zwanziger.

Zwanziger explained the cause for the power outage, saying, “We had an issue in the power plant where a feeder line that ran power for the plant failed. And because of that failure, it ended up taking out the controls for the plant – the power in the power plant – which ended up taking out power throughout the system.”

According to Zwanziger, UNI receives its power from two primary sources. In addition to generating its own power, the university buys power from Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU).

“We generally don’t make all the power we use, so we buy a lot of it from Cedar Falls Utilities,” Zwanziger said. “We have a couple of different lines coming in from them for redundancy. So if we do have a problem, we can tie into that line. And that’s, in effect, what we ended up doing in this case.

“We bypassed some of what we were doing at the power plant and put it onto that Cedar Falls Utilities feeder […] We’re actually in the middle of replacing the failed component in the power plant, but right now, everything’s up and running.”

According to Zwanziger, there were a total of 15 to 20 staff members from the physical plant who worked until about 11 o’clock getting most of the systems operating again in the various buildings on campus.

“So at this point, we’re just running off of one of the Cedar Falls Utilities tie lines we have,” Zwanziger said. “The issue at the plant is being corrected. We’ll get that back on line; campus won’t see a blip when we do it because there’s a switch gear that we can use to tie in our system into [CFU’s] system.”

Melissa Johnson, senior global studies, political science and history major, said she was working during the power outage.

“I was about to leave work. I work at the Sabin computer lab, so the power outage was a tad inconvenient,” Johnson said. “At first, I was confused […] We thought we blew a fuse because the generator lights came on.”

Zwanziger said there are a number of emergency generators around campus that provide power to buildings during outages.

“We have a few buildings that don’t have an emergency generator to them, but most major buildings do,” Zwanziger said. “So they’ll run lights in corridors and in main lobby areas – lights safety systems for the fire alarm, things like that – that are on emergency power.”

Adrian Mitchell, junior graphic design and communication major, described his experience during the power outage while in his dorm room in Shull Hall.

“My fans and lights turned out, and then I waited about 20 seconds and stuck my head out the door,” Mitchell said. “My neighbor did the same and his power was also out. We saw a girl stick her head out her door down the hall, and we asked if her power was out and it was. Within 10 minutes, a bunch of people started flocking outside, and someone yelled, ‘How am I supposed to watch Netflix?’ – which I thought was pretty funny.”

Zwanziger was thankful that the power outage didn’t occur earlier in the day during classes and the work day. However, he did lament the fact that it happened during meal periods for the department of residence.

Drake Thatcher, senior computer science major, was working at the south greeter station in the Piazza dining center during the power outage.

“We couldn’t let people in for five to 10 minutes. I had to write down students’ ID numbers instead of swiping cards,” Thatcher said. “Around 20 minutes in, I thought it was going to [last for] two hours. We were planning on not serving late night [dinner], which made me wonder how long it was going to be. I’ve never seen anything like this happen in the three years I’ve been here.”

“This does not happen very often,” Zwanziger said. “In fact, I don’t believe anybody that we were talking with that was involved in getting it back up and running could ever remember something of this scale.”