Campus Plunged Into Darkness

El Vaquero Staff Writer

Glendale College was one of more than 14,000 Glendale Department of Water and Power customers left in the dark at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 29 because of a faulty 34,000 volt underground cable; the power went out for more than an hour, according to Ritch Wells, public information officer for the Department of Water and Power.

Because there are limited emergency lights, in some buildings only illuminating hallways, Steve White, Vice President of Instruction Services, decided to cancel all of the evening classes and to close down the campus, after discussing it with Sharon Combs, Interim Vice President of College Services, and Steve Wagg, Chief of Campus Police.

“The campus wasn’t safe,” said White. “At the time we called — it was approximately 5 or 10 after 6 p.m. — Glendale Water and Power could not locate the problem and could not tell us when the power would be back on. So we decided for the safety of the students and staff that we had to close the campus and evacuate.” He closed the campus at 6:10 p.m.

“It was early in the evening there was no moonlight and it was very dark,” said White. “We have emergency lighting in the hallways and in our classrooms. As long as you could find the door to the classroom and get to the hallways you’re able to exit the building safely. But once outside-we don’t have any emergency lighting outside. So as soon as you got more than 10 feet away from the building it was extremely dark and the chances of injuries-were significant.”

Some of the emergency lighting failed. In the San Rafael Building staff and students had to make their way out in the dark.
According to Nidal Kobaissi, the campus’s Police Specialist, no injuries, accidents or crimes occurred during the blackout, though, several students were trapped in elevators but none sustained injuries.

Two or three students were trapped in an elevator in the Library building and one was trapped in the elevator in the San Rafael building.

Senior Cadet Ryan Wells of the college’s police department was working that evening and headed to the San Rafael building when he was found out that a woman was stuck in the elevator between the second and third floor.

When he got there he made contact with the woman, found out that she wasn’t injured and assured her that they were standing by. She was trapped in the elevator for about 30 to 45 minutes, according to Cadet Wells.

When the power came back on Cadet Wells assumes that she exited the elevator by the third floor because he was stationed on the second level and another cadet was stationed on the first. When the elevator doors opened on both levels she was already gone.

According to Combs, the IT department said that 111 classes were canceled, which affected about 2,580 students, all of whom needed to be notified that their classes were canceled that evening.
Representing the campus police that evening were three cadets, three officers, Police Chief Wagg and Police Specialist Kobaissi.

“Most of the work [in notifying students that the campus was closed] was done by campus police and cadets who were located at all the strategic locations,” said White. “We put up signs on as many buildings as we could, we were doing a little bit of stuff with bull horns, and we had administrators and volunteers walking around spreading the message [that the campus was closed].”

When the power came back on campus officials changed the marquee at the corner of Verdugo Road and Mountain Avenue so that it read “Campus Closed.” “It stayed on even during the second blackout,” said White.

When the lights went out there were about 100 students and six staff members in the library, said Linda S. Winters, acting associate dean of library and learning resources.

When the emergency lights went on some students made their way out of the library, while others “huddled under the emergency lighting,” Winters said.

A half hour after the blackout began campus police came in and evacuated the library. “Everyone was extremely calm [during the evacuation],” said Winters.

“The students were terrific. A student stuck in an elevator for nearly an hour laughed with Mary’s [Mirch, associate dean of the health center] staff and said he wanted a discount on his enrollment next semester,” wrote Combs in an E-mail to the GCC’s staff.?”The students used their cell phones for light to walk around the campus, and many students sat in dark, dark classrooms waiting to be helped out of the classroom rather than risk injury.”

“The biggest problem we had was with the students and the teachers not believing us that classes were canceled for the night,” said Cadet Wells.

Maria Castillo, 26, a student on campus that evening, said that traffic was a problem evacuating the campus. “It took over 10 minutes to get from the parking structure to the street,” she said.
Kobaissi, with Cadet Wells assisting, closed down Parking Lot B, located atop “cardiac hill,” so that drivers wouldn’t enter.

“After securing the lot and advising people that the college was closed the power went out for a second time,” said Cadet Wells. “So I stayed up in Lot B making sure that everyone was okay up there, because up in Lot B when the lights go out it is very dark.”

Students who wanted to be escorted to their cars were, in groups, using the lights from the police vehicles to light their way according to Kobaissi.

“I think that, myself, and my co-workers did a very good job that night, making sure everyone was safe,” said Cadet Wells.
“I’d give us about a B+,” said White when asked how well prepared he thought the campus was. “The campus police and the student cadets were great. They were prepared, their radio equipment worked, they were able to deal with the two elevator emergencies we had. They were able to communicate and keep Steve Wagg and Nidal Kobaissi, head of the police force, in contact with me and Sharon Combs.”

There are some things they need to work on though: they didn’t have enough flashlights, didn’t recruit enough staff and faculty to help, some failed emergency lighting, most notably in the San Rafael building and insufficient lighting to the parking lots, according to White.

“There’s a lot of things we’re going to try and fix,” said White. “We’re going to develop an emergency plan for this kind of event. We’re also going to do training sessions for blackouts.”
“There are some things that we need to put in place that were not in place for emergencies,” said Combs. “Personally all of us [staff] need to have walking shoes, flashlights, jackets, water. We need to be prepared for emergencies personally.”

Over all White said that “everyone was very cooperative. But some [students] didn’t really want to leave until they saw their teacher. Some were incredulous that we were actually going to close the campus and cancel classes. So they were waiting for their teacher to say it’s okay to go. So we had a little hard time convincing them.”

Students need not be worried about their school information, grades, etc. being lost due to the power outage. According to Combs no data was lost.

Wells, from the Glendale Department of Water and Power, said that the power outage covered a vast majority of Glendale from Pacific Avenue west to the eastern city boundary and California Street south to the northern city boundary.