Tuesday, January 04, 2005  

Back to Towers Online E-mail Story

The seminary power outage: What happened and why
September 13, 2004
By David Roach

Above is the manhole leading to the flooded conduit that caused the seminary’s power outage. Photo by David Merrifield

More than 500 residents of campus housing at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary were left without power Aug. 26-27 when water in a manhole caused a short in the electrical system supplying power to most of the seminary’s dormitories and academic facilities.

The outage required 134 female students to spend the night in the Legacy Center Aug. 26 and resulted in a number of other students sleeping in hotels. But after shipments of electrical equipment from Chicago and Cincinnati and round-the-clock work by technicians, power was restored at around 11:30 p.m. Aug. 27.

“This has been an incredible ordeal, and a reminder that we are so dependent upon electricity,” said Mohler. “From the first moment of this crisis, our first concern was to make sure that we kept everyone safe, even as we got the problem fixed — and the problem was much worse than we first imagined.”

Electricity went out at approximately 11:10 a.m. Aug. 26, when a blown fuse shut down power in Norton Hall, Fuller apartments, Samuels missionary apartments and the entire Mullins complex. Technicians from Marine Electric Company immediately began work to determine the source of the problem.

They discovered that water had flooded underground conduits causing wiring contained in them to short circuit. Following an outage the previous week, workers had restored power by replacing blown fuses.

But when the same fuses blew again Aug. 26, repair crews discovered the source of the problem and replaced more than 4,500 feet of underground wiring.

Seminary officials might have restored power sooner had electrical suppliers in the Louisville area not shipped all of their extra wiring and tools to Florida in the wake of Hurricane Charlie. On Aug. 27, equipment arrived from Chicago and Cincinnati, allowing technicians to restore the power.

Over the coming weeks, electricians will update the seminary’s systems in order to prevent future problems, according to Clark Logan, senior vice president for institutional administration at Southern. Portions of Southern’s electrical system were manufactured in 1947 and installed in 1953, Logan said. To replace those parts, technicians will turn off campus power for brief intervals during the fall semester.

“This is a situation common to all larger campuses,” Mohler said. “There is no way to replace the entire system at any one time. We have been adding continuous improvements to the seminary’s infrastructure, but this accident is the very thing we want to avoid.”

Added Logan, “We’re working with Marine Electric Company to implement our long-term plan that will prevent future incidents, but at the same time reduce the number of power disruptions on campus as the work is in process.”

To help residents affected by the power outage, Southern provided free meals at the seminary cafeteria and hosted a pizza party Aug. 26. Housing officials coordinated with resident leaders to assure the safety of all single female students by moving them to the Legacy Center.

Single male students and married students were given the option of remaining in their campus housing or spending the night of Aug. 26 in a hotel. To assure the safety of those remaining in the dorms, seminary security officers continuously patrolled residence halls throughout the night.

“We appreciate students’ adaptability and understanding and their spirit through this whole ordeal,” Logan said.

For Fuller residents Jason and Kristin Gray, the power outage represented a potentially troublesome situation that was handled well by seminary officials.

“They made a situation that could have been very inconvenient much better by providing a place to stay,” said Jason Gray, who spent the night at the Ramada Hotel. “It could have been a whole lot worse.”

Dawn Wishon, a student living in Williams Hall, helped coordinate women as they moved to the Legacy Center.

“It was fun,” she said. “We just kind of hung out, talked and did homework. It was an adventure.”

“We will all remember this blackout as part of our personal experience on this campus,” said Mohler. “I am so proud of the Christian maturity shown by the entire Southern Seminary family.

“It was a real demonstration of what we are all about. It takes far more than a blackout to dim the Southern Seminary spirit.”

© 2005, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - All Rights Reserved
Home | Contact Us | Reprint Permission