Failed switch causes campus power outage

Friday, October 9, 2009 | 6:36 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The Missouri Tigers locker rooms managed to escape last night’s blackout, but the Nebraska Cornhuskers had to be a little more creative. Keith Zimmer, the University of Nebraska’s associate athletic director for life skills, said the visiting team relied on temporary lighting to see during halftime.

Less than an hour before MU’s highly anticipated and nationally televised game, Memorial Stadium and its new $3.5 million scoreboard sat disappointingly dark.

According to MU spokesman Christian Basi, a high-voltage electricity distribution switch failed at 6:53 p.m., leaving the stadium without power for approximately 20 minutes. Like the stadium, most of campus only experienced brief power loss, but 15 campus buildings were without power for up to 90 minutes.

Work crews were able to restore power to most of the stadium in time for kickoff at 8:01 p.m. Power for the stadium lights, concessions stand and south scoreboard returned quickly. But portions of the north and east sides of the building, including the brand-new scoreboard and public address system, did not have electricity for the rest of the game.

MU’s locker rooms happened to be located in the unaffected portion of the power grid—some of the team’s best luck of the night.

The reason for the switch’s failure is still under investigation, but it was replaced this morning. According to Basi, all power was restored by noon.

With only one scoreboard functioning, the play clock was removed for the duration of the game. Zimmer said he didn’t think it was a major problem for his team.

Thanks to a coordinated effort between university and city staff, the crowd didn’t have to deal with any major problems either. No safety issues were reported at the game during the blackout.

"The moment power went down we discussed how to deal with the situation," Basi said. "It was a fantastic effort by the crew to get things running and get the game started on time."

He said MU Campus Facilities runs regular simulations for handling situations such as power outages, and a full crew was on standby in case of any such problems.

Nearby residence halls were also among the affected buildings.

Lathrop Hall Community Adviser Claire Pohle was sitting at the residence hall’s front desk when the lights went out. She tried to keep everyone calm, although there wasn’t much panic.

“Luckily there was no one in the elevator,” Pohle said.

MU Health Care spokesman Jeff Hoelscher said all patient care areas within MU Health Care have backup generators which turn on automatically in the event of an outage.

“You might notice a flicker,” he said.

Hoelscher said that, to his knowledge, the Missouri Psychiatric Center was the only university patient facility that needed to utilize backup generators.


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