For 11 hours last Friday, a blackout impaired students’ ability to do work, go to class and eventually led to the evacuation of some residence halls.
According to Joe Sullivan, director of facilities, a large tree fell across the main electric line that feeds the campus at 9:30 a.m., breaking the power lines. When the power was not restored by 6 p.m., Residence Life called for an evacuation of Allen, Brewster, Eli, Cromwell, Decker and Eickhoff Halls as well as all three Townhouse complexes.
“We used backup generators in buildings that we felt were safe to be in,” Sullivan said. This included using a portable generator to light Eickhoff Hall, so that it was able to serve food to students.
Sullivan said that the portable generators were also used for outdoor lighting as well as for the Brower Student Center, which remained open as a refuge for students with no place to go.
While most buildings have backup generators for emergency lights, exit signs and fire alarms, Sullivan said that most of the backup systems were down by noon.
“Battery powered emergency lights and backup systems are only designed to last a few hours,” he said.
With darkness falling and no emergency systems to provide minimal lighting to residence halls, Residence Life began to evacuate students. By 6:30 p.m., students were packing up to go home, waiting at the student center or seeking shelter with friends who lived off campus.
“I was pretty sure the power would be off for a while … since our emergency lights weren’t working,” Linda Gallant, junior English major who lives in Townhouses
West, said. “So I thought I might as well just get in my car and go. It was sort of frustrating.”
Gretchen Reyes-Cseplo, upperclassmen area director of Residence Life, said that the evacuation was required because there was no power and back-up generators were not going to work overnight. Reyes-Cseplo said that HA’s went door-to-door to see how residents were doing and to inform them of the evacuation.
“Considering the circumstances, I think that the HA’s and CA’s were helpful during the evacuation,” Lisa Camasano, junior elementary education and Spanish major, said.
“However, knowing other state colleges had closed due to the hurricane earlier, I think that TCNJ could have been better prepared,” she added. “Some commuters were sitting in classes, and there was no organization to tell people what to do.”
Restoring the power
Employees at Facilities worked hard to bring power back to campus, some employees working 36-hour shifts.
“We knew we might have problems so we scheduled extra staff who stayed from noon on Thursday until everything was restored on Friday night,” Sullivan said.
While the College was prepared, they had to wait for assistance from PSE&G (Public Service Electric & Gas) in order to fully restore power, since the company was responsible for the main feed.
“There was extensive damage, especially in the Southern sector of the state, so we had to wait an extended period of time for PSE&G,” Sullivan said.
Power could not be restored to the entire campus at once, so re-lighting of buildings had to be staggered.
Sullivan said that Facilities turned on its own distribution first, then the buildings at separate times. “We didn’t want that much power flow at one time,” he said.
Between 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on Friday, everything was repaired and back in service.
Thursday night power troubles
Due to high winds brought on by hurricane Isabel, a number of buildings on campus experienced sporadic power outages on Thursday night as well.
Sullivan said that PSE&G was having problems with its local 13,000-volt system that powers Ewing and Lawrenceville as well as the College.
Because of this, the College had to go into what Sullivan referred to as “isolation” or “idle mode.” In this internal system, Sullivan said that it is hard to maintain a balance between output and campus load, causing intermittent outages.
“It didn’t work as smoothly as we would have liked,” Sullivan said, “so we will be looking at how to improve that performance.”
Additional reporting by Teresa Rivas and Amanda Harris.