Re-energizing the campus during power outages

August 28, 2019

Faculty and staff were left in the dark for a few hours last Tuesday when at approximately 11:40am, the BC Hydro electrical feed to Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Burnaby campus was interrupted. According to BC Hydro, the outage was the result of an incident off campus. Although no serious incidents were reported due to the power outage, the event was a potent reminder of the importance of being prepared.

“We have a direct line established with the BC Hydro’s Operations Centre,” says Mike Williams, Superintendent, Electrical department. “As soon as there’s an incident, our first action is to get in touch with them to get the facts. That information is then provided internally to our response teams and to our colleague at Safety and Risk Services so they can keep the community informed.”

Working close at hand with the electrical team, Facilities Services mechanics, plumbers, and HVAC technicians also play key roles during and immediately after an outage. “The first thing we always do is make sure all our backup power generators are running smoothly and topped up with fuel,” says Keith Horne, Superintendent, Mechanical. “From there, we monitor critical systems like air compressors to ensure their continued operation and ensure generators are refueled during extended outages. We also ensure sanitary transfer stations are pumped to ensure continuity of operation.”

Once the power is re-established, that’s when the real work begins. From boilers to the Lorne Davies pool to relighting pilot lights and gas and air handling systems, it’s all hands on deck for the Mechanical department. And once BC Hydro gives the go-ahead, Electrician Bruce Lundeberg suits up in what is known as a 40 cal arc flash suit, a heavy-duty full body safety outfit, and begins turning critical systems back on. “Once BC Hydro re-energizes our line, we can start adding load but we want to do it slowly and safely,” says Mike. “So, we selectively add load on and within a short period of time, we make sure the entire campus is back to full power.” This work is supported by Customer Service who answer calls from customers ensuring that information is forwarded to the appropriate personnel as well as the Energy Management Team who work to ensure the building control system, the main system that controls and monitors HVAC, comes back online properly.

In addition to reviewing ways of improving response times, Mike says his team is currently bringing in a brand new power monitoring system by the end of the year that will provide real-time power and environmental system monitoring capabilities. “We are always looking for ways to improve the reliability of our electrical infrastructure and improve overall safety for our students, faculty, and staff.”