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Editorial: A better approach to power outages

On Oct. 27, the Orono area experienced a power outage that lasted a couple hours. The timing was unfortunate — Friday was a busy evening, with many campus events and a hockey game planned for the community. Most events were delayed, and some were canceled as a result of the blackout.

According to UMaine’s emergency alerts system, power had returned to the east side of campus by 7:07 p.m. and the west side was still in the dark. By 7:45 p.m., power had returned campus-wide. The Bangor Daily News reported that the blackout was caused by a downed power line in the area. That left students without power for around two hours on a Friday night.

The power outage caused trouble in the larger Orono area, with some traffic lights out of operation and apartment complexes without power. For some residents, the various apartment complexes around campus are dead zones for phone service, making communications difficult without service or internet connection. Other residents found themselves out of luck for making dinner, without electricity to use kitchen appliances.

This incident, while relatively short-lived in the grand scheme of Friday, is a good reminder to have some sort of emergency preparedness kit on hand. It’s not the first thing college students may think of when moving into a new apartment, but it will prove itself useful — especially as winter approaches, and these outages become more likely with inclement weather. A battery-powered or hand-crank radio will allow public announcements to come through, for those in dead zones. It also can’t hurt to have flashlights, non-perishable food and a car phone charger stored away.

Resident assistants are trained to deal with power outage situations and are called to their dormitories to hold open an exterior door for students coming and going. The MaineCard system that usually grants access to the buildings relies on the power grid to operate. This raises the question of whether these systems could be equipped with backup batteries.

With an emergency battery life, power outages would not require someone to physically hold open doors — a practice that is functional, but not ideal. In colder weather, this is taxing on the building’s heating and the comfort of the resident assistant manning the door. During vacations when fewer people are on campus, students in break housing would benefit from the assured reliance of an emergency battery backup. This technology is already in use for individual room doors.

At the Alfond Arena, a hockey game between the University of Maine and University of Minnesota-Duluth was delayed until 8:30 p.m., even while players and fans alike could see lights on in the arena. Generators inside the Alfond kept the lights on and the ice operational through the duration of the blackout.

This power outage was textbook in every way, but outlined some of the ways we can approach them better in the future. Shifting some of the technologies onto battery back-up, and ensuring that we ourselves can appropriately handle being abruptly cut off from the grid, will help make these situations pass a little quicker, and safer, than last time.

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