Power outages cue update to emergency plan

More than a dozen buildings were impacted by outages in mid-August.

Power outages cue update to emergency plan

Kathryn Elliott

Multiple power outages that darkened labs and classrooms all over the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Academic Health Center have prompted administrators to rethink their emergency preparedness plans.

University Services and the School of Dentistry are updating AHC disaster protocols to be used in any situationâÄî from floods to terrorist attacks.

In mid-August, construction workers excavating Washington Avenue accidentally cut an Xcel Energy power feeder. The lights went out in Fairview hospital, its parking ramp, three University dorms and several classroom buildings.

That incident and two other power outages prompted Dr. Todd Thierer, a School of Dentistry associate dean, to start working on a detailed communications plan in the event an emergency caused an extended disruption in Moos Tower.

Because the School of Dentistry houses research experiments that require constant electricity and equipment that needs refrigeration, Thierer said the plan will include plenty of generator support. Employees with key roles will get a sheet of paper outlining their job and who to call in case of an emergency.

The plan has not yet been finalized. Thierer will work with administrators in the School of Dentistry to establish a chain of command, taking into account the unique needs of a health clinic when an outage occurs.

âÄúWeâÄôre just in a tremendously dynamic environment,âÄù said Jeff Ogden, chief administrator for the School of Dentistry.

âÄúIâÄôm worrying about it all night long. ThereâÄôs so much out there that we canâÄôt control.âÄù

âÄòEscortsâÄô through construction

The school is already familiar with turning an inconvenience into an opportunity, Ogden said.

This summer, construction workers busted a hole in the tunnel between Washington Avenue parking ramp and Moos Tower âÄî the primary entrance for handicapped visitors to the UniversityâÄôs dental clinics.

The tunnelâÄôs reconstruction took two months instead of the expected two weeks, so the School of Dentistry offered its students a job opportunity: escorting patients through construction for $25 an hour. The construction company paid.

A number of second-year dental students, like Kyle Smith, responded to the offer from the School of DentistryâÄôs Student Services office and took shifts playing foot-traffic controller near Washington Avenue.

âÄúPeople have been deterred from coming onto campus for the construction,âÄù Smith said. âÄúThe dental school doesnâÄôt want its patient base to decrease because of access concerns.âÄù

The Electricity Team

For the Electric Utilities Group, an outage means action âÄî finding the source of the problem and solving it by working with building occupants and Xcel, which provides the UniversityâÄôs power.

At the Building Services Automation Center, operators monitor thousands of alarm points around campus. If all the fans in a given building suddenly register âÄúoff,âÄù for example, it would clue them in to a possible outage, said Brad Hoff, an administrator for the University Facilities Management.

Then, the UniversityâÄôs team of electricians would look for cut cables, flooding, the smell of smoke or other possible origins.

When two of the UniversityâÄôs 15 Excel feeders are disabled âÄî which happened in July âÄî the school loses an amount of electricity that could power 40,000 homes, Hoff said.