Midweek electric fault resets power

Allegheny College briefly lost power just before 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 25, with lights and electronics shutting down and then powering right back on across campus. The college’s internet remained offline for at least half an hour after the system reset.
“We just had a surge on campus,” Director of Physical Plant Joe Michael said. “We restored power on campus and as power comes back up the systems come back on. Phone systems we were able to restore before internet access, but everything should be back up and running”
The surge was caused by contractors working at Robertson Athletic Complex, who hit an underground power line operated by power company Penelec. This caused an electric “fault,” or an abnormal electric current in the system.
“It sends an electrical ‘message’ if you will, or an electrical condition, into our substations,” said Todd Meyers, a spokesman for Penelec. “What can happen there is we have breakers and transformers — things that can be pretty expensive and hard to replace — and so when the breaker would sense, ‘Hey there’s a problem out on the line, something’s going on here that’s going to damage equipment in here,’ then sometimes those (circuits) will open up. They can also sense — and in some instances close back in themselves — if that is passed.”
After receiving this message, all of the transformers reset, according to Michael.
“It basically takes all the transformers down for safety, and then brings them back up one-by-one, just as a safety precaution,” he said.
While it is standard practice to contact the relevant utility companies before beginning any excavation, Michael said that that specific cable had been missed when Penelec had checked the area.
“They had marked the area, Penelec had, and they didn’t identify that line, so we just happened to hit it,” Michael said. “What I am told Penelec was going to do is disconnect that portion of the line, get the rest of Robertson up and running, and then replace that line. But because it’s their line and their responsibility to mark it, they’re also responsible to repair it.”
The baseball field’s renovations are continuing through the winter in order for the complex to be ready for the beginning of the spring season in just over two months.
“We have to finish before the first home game, which is March 18,” Michael said. “It’s a pretty common thing.”
The fault also damaged the college’s wireless infrastructure.
“(The) campus wide power incident caused an equipment malfunction with our Internet Service Provider’s connection stack,” the college’s Information Technology Service wrote in an email to The Campus. “ITS has implemented a temporary workaround and is working with our ISP to replace and reconfigure their equipment as needed … . We do not expect this issue to persist through the semester, as it was the result of an equipment failure that our ISP will resolve.”
As electrical faults are caused by physical disruptions to a power grid, the system has faced disruptions as recently as last year.
“We had a surge like this last winter where a car went off the road to the north of campus and took down the transformer and took down our lines as well for an extended period,” Michael said. “It wasn’t quite as short as this one; it went out for about an hour for some of our buildings, but that’s just how it goes and there’s not really anything anyone can do except be more cautious as they walk and as they drive.”