UConn must improve response to unforeseen outages

Firefighters wait for orders before entering TLS. A fire took place in the Torrey Life Science Building on UConn Storrs campus on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016. (Zhelun Lang/The Daily Campus)

On Oct. 24, the University of Connecticut experienced a massive power outage across the flagship Storrs campus. Reporting from Anna Aldrich and Molly Stadnicki of the Daily Campus indicates the power outage occurred at 10:40 a.m., affecting nearly 100 labs, buildings and residence halls in Storrs. Though the university successfully restored power within a few hours of the incident, the alerts sent out to students and faculty were unclear, failing to account for all buildings affected.

University staff, emergency services and others involved in restoring power to the area should be commended for their rapid response to an unpredictable event. That day none could have predicted that one of the thousands of squirrels on the Storrs campus entering a transformer around the Torrey Life Sciences (TLS) section of campus could have effectively crippled a modern university with a self-sufficient power grid.

Though this freak occurrence demanded a flexible response from the university, the failure to include Oak Hall, home to the humanities and social sciences departments, and dozens of classes throughout the day, in the initial announcement is a serious oversight. Oak Hall lost power along with other buildings around 10:40 a.m., and professors and students were not clear on whether or not classes in this building would be held or not, as all classes in affected buildings (regardless of when power was restored) were to be cancelled.

While students residing on, or near campus were only given a slight inconvenience by this mistake, others traveling from off-campus housing, or residing in other parts of the state or region, may have been seriously inconvenienced.

Though the university responded professionally to the cause of the problem, remedying the situation with speed, recent incidents on campus raise questions regarding the state of infrastructure in Storrs.

In the past month, there have been two incidents of fire in TLS, numerous problems regarding water quality, the evacuation of ITE, the power outage of Connecticut Commons and other areas last winter, as well as continued problems with internet connectivity in Storrs. Though UConn continues to modernize, the university must address issues regarding critical infrastructure to ensure expansion does not come at the cost of increasing inconvenience.

Though it is not clear that updates to infrastructure could have stopped a curious squirrel from knocking out power to much of campus, the university should certainly assess recurring problems to eliminate weaknesses. In the meantime, the university must ensure that, during a power outage or other rare infrastructure-failure, the UConn community is provided with rapid, accurate and understandable information regarding the building and residence hall closures. These may seem like trivial concerns in comparison to downed, live electrical wires or other emergencies; however, when students travel great distances to campus, it is the duty of officials to ensure inconveniences are limited.