Out of Power

I had quite a few things to do on campus today before jetting off on a short trip tomorrow. I hoped to finish them in time for a decent blog post before heading home for tea and the Beelzebub crossword. Unfortunately when I got to the University just after 1pm I found the building in darkness. It turns out that the power went off about 10am. A little investigation revealed that all the buildings North-South Road (that’s the part of the Sussex University campus where all the science buildings are located) had a complete power outage due to a probably probably due to a fault in the high-voltage supply onto campus. Engineers had been called out as soon as the fault was reported but, not being qualified to work on such equipment themselves, power wasn’t restored until just after 4pm with the arrival of a specialist crew.

One thing worth saying about this is that the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences does have an emergency response procedure for such eventualities and since as Head of School I’m officially a “responsible person” I had to make a judgement as to whether there was a serious threat to safety. If there had been, I would have had to execute the plan, contact all the relevant personnel, and order people out of the building. I decided that there wasn’t so just informed the students who were in the building what the situation was and that they could stay if they wanted. The emergency lighting was working and there was no immediate danger of anything nasty happening.

I went for a stroll around campus to see the extent of the outage. The only sign of life nearby was the sound from the emergency generators in the Shawcross building which kicked in to keep the main campus servers up and running. The PC room at the front of the building was deserted. Presumably the students who usually work there at weekends had found an alternative location, or were just outside enjoying the sunshine until the systems started up again, and any staff in attendance were presumably working on the backup systems in the bowels of the building.

No computers were working in our building either of course so some decided to work in the Library, which is on the other side of campus and wasn’t affected by the power cut. After checking out with the campus services what was going on I decided to stay until the fault was rectified just in case there were any problems. Some of our physicists had experiments running over the weekend and one or two came in to check that there was no serious harm done to their gear. There may be some faults to deal with tomorrow morning, but by then I’ll be elsewhere!

Such things as power cuts are inconvenient but they remind us how dependent we have become on electricity, especially for running computers. Fortunately this happened on a Sunday so there wasn’t much happening on campus, but a huge amount of our activities rely on digital devices of one form or another and it would have been much worse had it happened on a week day. The worst thing as far as I’m concerned, however, is that with no computer to work on I was deprived of displacement activities and was forced to start marking the scripts from Theoretical Physics examination…

8 Responses to “Out of Power”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    “a complete power outage due to a probably in the high-voltage supply onto campus”

    I reckon I know a thing or two about probability theory but what is a “probably”? Is it a small furry rodent?

  2. Benny T. Says:

    given the blog name, and that you “found the building in darkness”, I don’t understand how you resisted the temptation to call this post “In the dark [literally]”

    [my first comment here – thanks for the writing!]

  3. brissioni Says:

    a bunch of physicists with no electricity, can’t help but enjoy the irony

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