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Cable failure causes power outage

By Brian Rosenberg

Two independent cable failures caused parts of MIT to lose electricity for more than an hour and a half last Friday, according to Thomas E. Shepherd Jr., Physical Plant associate director for engineering and utilities.

The outage began at 3:22 pm and lasted until 5:30 pm in some areas. Buildings west of a north-south line between the Whitaker Building (Building 56) and the Ralph Landau Building (Building 66) were affected, Shepherd said.

Two power cables dedicated to the MIT campus run underground from a Cambridge Electric Company substation on

Memorial Drive, Shepherd explained. "One cable had a fault at around 10 am," he said. "Our load was switched to the other cable, which developed its own fault at 3:22. There was no relation between the two."

A Cambridge Electric spokesman explained, "We generally have two feeders at each location, so that when one is in trouble, we have a backup circuit."

Physical Plant dealt with the outage by rerouting power from other substations through the Institute's internal switching. "We had to collect the system and segregate it into pieces that the circuit breakers could handle. We then had groups of electricians going around the campus turning them on," Shepherd said.

Both faults were found and repaired before 7:30 am Saturday, the Cambridge Electric spokesman said.

Shepherd said he believed that the two independent faults were a "very infrequent occurrence."

The early release of many MIT employees aided the restoration of power. "When the lights in a lot of offices get turned off, our load drops dramatically," Shepherd said.

"Beginning at about 4:15 or 4:30, anyone in a building without power could go home," said Joan F. Rice, director of personnel. Employees were paid on a normal basis, she said.

Some areas of campus had their power restored before others, according to Shepherd. "We turned the housing on last," he said.

Certain buildings received priority due to concern for experiments which required constant temperatures or other special conditions. Shepherd said he did not think the power was down long enough to damage these experiments because his office has received few complaints.

The Campus Police have received no reports of any injuries as a result of the outage. There "may have been one entrapment in an elevator," said Stephen P. Miscowski, Physical Plant manager for electrical services. "If there was one, it wasn't lengthy," he added.

Project Athena was broadly affected by the outage. "Five workstation disks, between four and 10 monitors and three disks on fileservers all needed replacing," said Peter Roden, manager of systems and operations for Project Athena.

The cost of the equipment was covered under Athena's grant from Digital Equipment Corporation, Roden said, but Project Athena paid overtime for installation on Saturday. "Also, a slew of systems needed formatting and installation," said.

"We recieved word from Physical Plant that we could power up at 10 am Saturday," Roden said. "With a lot of work from Athena operations staff and the information systems network services staff, [Project Athena] was back to full operation by late Saturday afternoon."