Campus Responds to Power Outage


Northern was in the dark along with the rest of Marquette County during Sunday's marathon power outage. But with 2,300 students in the residence halls, some administrators and staff members did not have the liberty of just “waiting it out.” They mobilized and came up with some inventive measures to keep students safe, informed and – perhaps just as importantly – fed.


“Generally speaking, students seemed to handle to the challenges of being without power very well,” said Carl Holm (Housing and Residence Life). “I saw a lot of them sitting in lounges or lobbies talking with one another by flashlight. Others were walking around, curious to see what was going on. We have to give a lot of credit to the staff who were all 'on duty.' They made themselves available and were making rounds in their halls with flashlights once it got dark."


Holm said there were some problems in a Meyland Hall mechanical room. Because the pumps were rendered inoperable, an excess amount of steam built up in the recreation room, damaging ceiling tile and setting off a fire alarm. The resulting humidity caused some water to puddle on the floor as well.


Holm said the blackout, with its duration of nearly 11 hours, was the worst he has experienced at Northern: “There was another significant outage back when I was a resident director – maybe in 1974. It didn’t last as long, but it was dark outside for most of it so it was at a more critical time. Candles were permitted back then and I remember everyone walking around with candles. Now it’s flashlights.”


The university’s phone system began running on a battery backup after the power went out Sunday, but it went down completely about 90 minutes later, according to Ken Chant (Public Safety and Police Services).


“In order to get it back on line, it took three generators – one at Cohodas, one at Quad II and one at the LRC,” he said. “ Dave Maki, Don Salo and Kim Erickson (AdIT) made a heck of an effort to get it done. They drove their own vehicles to Midway Rentals and hauled generators back to campus, where the electricians hooked them up. I can’t say enough good things about what they did. They kept us updated the whole time and got the job done.”


Public safety dispatched staff to each residence hall to verify that each resident director had cell phone communication capability. Student employees who typically work special events were also called in to assist. They were stationed in the residence halls with portable radios and flashlights to help with communication and to serve as firewatchers.


Dining services had to cook up a quick alternative for feeding students because local restaurants were – quite literally – powerless to fill the void.


“A couple of hours without electricity is one thing, but as the day wore on, students were getting pretty hungry,” said Andy Wasilewski (Auxiliary Services). “We ended up taking these big charcoal cookers that we had, which are essentially barrels cut in half, and delivered them to the residence halls with charcoal and food. Dining services employees and residence hall staff, along with students, were outside cooking up burgers and hot dogs. At least the students were able to have a warm meal to tide them over. But we will be looking at the need for generators in the Marketplace.”


As one might expect from a university, the sweeping power outage will serve as a learning experience. It has sparked discussions among the entities involved as to how Northern might prepare and respond even more effectively should a similar incident arise in the future.



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Updated: October 21, 2004