Campus Left Powerless

El Vaquero Staff Writer

Glendale Community College and some of its neighbors suffered a blackout shortly after 11 a.m. Wednesday due to an explosion in a vault at the Glendale Water and Power plant. Main power was lost, causing disruption of lights, phones, computers, and the health center’s refrigeration system that is used to keep medications fresh. Parts of the campus that were plunged into darkness had to be evacuated, including classrooms in the Library, San Gabriel, San Rafael, and Administration buildings.

The power failure was not due to the power emergency in the state of California. Although a Stage 2 power alert was declared in the state of California at 11:45 a.m., operations manager Bill Taylor stressed that the cause of the power failure was an isolated event.

The outage also caused disruption of elevator service to the campus, trapping one GCC student. Labiva Avan was on her way to class when she took the No. 1 elevator located in the San Gabriel building foyer. The Glendale Fire Department arrived at around 11:15 a.m. to rescue Avan, and while one firefighter kept the automatic fire door from closing, three firefighters spent almost an hour prying the door open. Firefighters finally succeeded at freeing the student from the elevator shortly after power was restored.

A shaken, but otherwise uninjured Avan, emerged with an embarrassed smile on her face. She vowed never again to take an elevator saying that she would stick to taking the stairs from now on.

“There was no air conditioning,” said Avan. “There was a little light in there, that’s all.”

The power failure also forced classes to be moved outside.

“We’ve been out here in the sun,” said business instructor Karen Peterson, who had to move her Business 101 class out into the San Gabriel Plaza. “We weren’t sure [what had happened] but I couldn’t see.”

“We like it better out here,” said ESL instructor Karen Griffith, who conducted class in the grassy area in front of the Administration Building when her classroom in the Auditorium building went dark. “I wish we had done this months ago.”

When internal efforts to return power to the campus were unsuccessful, it was determined that the problem was coming from somewhere outside the campus. Taylor was in direct contact with officials at GWP who said that they did not know when power would come back on.

“It [the power failure] gives you an idea of how much we depend on energy,” said facilities manager Dan Padilla.

Wireless communications on the campus were fully operating at the time of the power outage. However, backup generators for campus phones and generators for the health center that are used to keep the refrigeration system operable, failed to come online.

Taylor did not know what had caused the backup generators to fail. During a power failure, campus elevators are designed to automatically return to the first floor and let occupants out. It is not known why the elevator that Avan was in did not open on the first floor.

“It’s more than what we’re set up for,” said Jessica Loguercio of the health center. “We’re set up for bad, but we’re not set up for catastrophic, which is technically what I would say this is. We have a special back up generator for our refrigerator for the medication. That’s what we’re set up for. It’s worked before. It’s worked for power outages; it’s worked for earthquakes. It’s worked for everything. This is the first time that it has gone out.”

“Everybody’s got cell phones, but they can’t even call the health center or any other phone on campus,” said health center secretary Karen Wharton.

If an extensive power failure were to occur, medication in the refrigerators could be stored for a couple of days. The health center maintained normal operations during the hour-long blackout.

“We just can’t check our e-mail,” laughed Loguercio.

Power returned to the campus at 12:06 p.m. Afterward, Facilities reported that sporadic outages around campus were caused by breakers tripping due to the surge of electricity that was caused when power returned to campus.