Shortage leaves halls dark and dim

USF experienced a power shortage over the weekend that left residents without electricity for several hours and no cable during the weekend.

The first report came Friday around 4:30 p.m. with complaints that cable connections in several residence halls were lost. Then, nearly 10 minutes later, it was reported that several residence halls were without power.

The episode was not nearly as severe as the blackout that occurred in New York, Detroit and Canada last week, yet the problem scattered in a similar fashion, said Christopher Martinez, coordinator for computer applications at USF.

Martinez said the shortage started at the Sun Dome when some high voltage underground cables shorted. Because the lines run across campus to the Greek Village, Martinez said some residence halls, mostly in the Argos section, were affected.

“As the power was leading up those lines everything else went,” Martinez said.

Power in the residence halls was restored at 8 p.m. Friday, but residents were then without cable all weekend until it was hooked up Monday morning.

Martinez said USF first began experiencing problems at about 4 p.m. Friday when computers in the Argos Center began to reach a low power level. By Saturday evening it had scattered to various residence halls, until about half were without cable.

“We have all our computers up on what is called interrupted power supplies so if power dips it gives us time to shut down properly,” Martinez said.

Michael LaPan, president of the Sun Dome, said the arena lost power when the underground cables blew out, but only half of its power was lost. LaPan said the Sun Dome has a power supply coming from two sides of campus; the north and south side, which is near Fowler Avenue.

Because the Sun Dome still had incoming power from the south side, the air system wasn’t impacted when the high voltage underground cables blew out.

“I think what happens is they break down over time,” LaPan said.

Three conduits lie one cable, LaPan said, and a constant heating and cooling of the cable leads to default and eventually have to be replaced.

“I assume they’d replace (the cable),” LaPan said. “But we could even use an emergency generator if we were having an event.”

Officials from Physical Plant could not be reached for comment.

Martinez said cable for the residence halls is operated from a stand alone utility room on campus and he was able to repair the cable by Monday at 8 a.m.

Part of the delay, however, was that Martinez did not learn what started the power shortage until Monday afternoon. At first, Martinez said it seemed as though the problem came from Greek Village when two breakers tripped, which left a utility building with no power.

Martinez said a cable contractor came in Monday to examine the utility rooms to see how a power and cable shortage can be prevented from happening again.

The last time USF experienced a major blackout was in late October when a squirrel came in contact with one of the campus’ main electricity supply units in the university’s substation.

Squirrels have often been the primary reason for blackouts on the USF campus, said Ross Bannister, spokesman for Tampa Electric Co.

Robert Collins, account manager of TECO for USF, said the campus configures its own distribution system of electricity that is metered by TECO, which it owns and operates. And the amount of electricity it has to operate on campus is fairly significant at about 20 mega watts.

“USF does have a number of back up generators on campus and definitely ones for critical facilities that they could switch on in case something happened,” Collins said.

A blackout like the one that was trigged from Ohio in the Northeastern power grid is not likely to happen here because of the generators distributed on campus. However, keeping those generators secure is a major part of preventing any power shortages, Bannister said.

“Something that gets me since the blackout up north is there have been quite a number of stories that are fully blown out that show where the troubled system is,” Bannister said. “For certain security sensitivities, if there’s a weak spot you don’t want to tell people about it.”