Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
The power went out at 9 PM on Saturday, leaving the Swarthmore community temporarily in the dark. Director of Maintenance Ralph Thayer informed the Gazette that “high winds took out power lines somewhere in Media, blacking out the college and a number of other PECO customers.” All of the buildings on main campus were effected, but not the off-campus dormitories, which use a different electricity service.
While Swarthmore “generally suffers through at least one blackout a year,” according to Thayer, “at 1 hour and 55 minutes this was one of the longer ones.” The college is particularly susceptible to such blackouts because it uses a 33,000 volt service. “By its nature, the high difference of potential renders the lines subject to destructive arcing that tends to blow things apart rather than tripping a breaker somewhere. It’s a lot more sensitive than the four thousand volt lines that are commonly run through neighborhoods.”
Luckily, the blackout was caused by “a clean break of power, not a brown out or phase loss,” and so no equipment was damaged. While emergency generators in the dorms worked as they were supposed to, Lang Music Building and Sharples Dining Hall both remained dark. “Transfer switches from the emergency generators failed to activate,” explained Hayer, and so “our service company has been called to make repairs.”
The blackout happened on a particularly busy night, while SAC members were preparing for the Screw Your Roommate formal and visiting students for the Beyond the Box conference were wrapping up their activities. The formal was without music for the first hour, but the power came back on by eleven, allowing most of the event to proceed as planned.
Campus radio station WSRN was knocked out for the duration of the blackout, but General Manager John C. Williams ’06 reported that “there were no major problems getting the station up and running the next day… the main difficulty we’ve had is with the webcast machine, which got knocked out and is now being cranky–hopefully we’ll have it up and running again within the next couple of days.”
Williams summed up student reaction when he said that in the end, “the only damage done was the unfortunate five-hour lack of rocking.”