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Recent Power Outages at Smith

A Message from Physical Plant:

During the last 90 days the Smith College campus has experienced four relatively significant power outages ranging in duration from approximately 20 minutes to three and a half hours. Each of these outages originated off campus in the distribution network of our local utility (National Grid) affecting other local homes and businesses and in no way caused by or associated with any failures internal to the campus. Prior to these incidents total campus disruptions over the last decade have been limited to a few isolated and occasional momentary disruptions, none of which lasted more than a few minutes.

During the last year, National Grid has been performing a substantial upgrade to their substation that serves the Smith Campus and surrounding portions of the city. When complete it will provide several independent lines carrying power to the area and new computerized switching and load protection. System failures will be automatically sensed and power automatically rerouted around damaged equipment and or lines. Unfortunately it appears that during the project some of the back up lines to the area have been reduced or temporarily eliminated, a situation that seems to be contributing to these more frequent outages.

Most buildings on our campus are served by generators that provide emergency power to life safety equipment and are also designed to provide enough emergency lighting to accomplish a safe and orderly evacuation if required. A few buildings on campus are not served by generators and use battery powered emergency lights designed to operate for approximately two hours. Some critical operations, such as the plant that provides heat to the campus, are backed up by their own generators or power supplies.

Recent power failures have brought to our attention some deficiencies in our existing system. Some examples are as follows:

  • Several of the switches that automatically transfer loads from the electrical grid to our generators in the event of a power failure have reached an age where they are no longer dependable and are in the process of being replaced.
  • The transmitter that powers the radios Physical Plant and Public Safety use for emergency communications have been connected to a reliable source of emergency back up power and new equipment with battery back up is being ordered.
  • We are looking at ways to establish a more active program to test emergency equipment on a regular basis during normal business hours.
  • Some of the pieces of equipment required to implement these fixes are not stock items at local suppliers and have lead times of 30 to 60 days for ordering. This has caused some failures to happen repeatedly during the short time frame these outages have occurred in.

Physical Plant is working to ensure that all emergency power equipment works properly and is installed where necessary. We regret the inconvenience caused by recent outages and encourage your input and feedback on the operation of our systems during these outages.

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