On Wednesday, April 24 at about 8pm, we received report of a “brownout” for the Peterson Building. A brownout is when part of a building loses power, unlike a blackout, which occurs when an entire building loses power.

Dr. Leland (Sandy) Pierson III is Professor and Head of Plant Pathology and Microbiology, which is housed in the Peterson Building. For Dr. Pierson and his staff, the unfortunate brownout was cause for major concern.

A small domestic water line coming into the basement mechanical room sprung a leak, which sprayed water onto electrical switchgear. Subsequently, power was lost to most of the building. Half of the breakers tripped because of water running down switchgear. The water had to be turned off in order to start drying out the switchgear before being able to test the breakers. Part of the building that lost power housed four -80 degree freezers, containing research spanning decades.

Dr. Pierson commented, “These freezers are some of the primary back-up units for scientists in the department. They contain frozen samples of plant-associated pathogens and beneficials, along with plant samples stored for DNA and RNA extraction. They represent an incredible amount of effort by many researchers and in many cases years of research that cannot be easily reproduced.”

The goal to resolve the issue was two-fold. The first objective was to restore power to the four freezers.

During another outage several years ago, a temporary panel had been installed which allowed a generator hook-up. Because of this previous event, accommodations were made to ensure bringing in temporary power would be quick.

A big thank you to our contractor Britt Rice, who delivered a back-up generator about 1am on April 25. As a result of Britt Rice’s prompt response, power was restored to the freezers.

The second objective was to restore power to the building so 8am classes would not be cancelled.

When power was taken offline to the switchgear, our Maintenance team tested power to the breakers and realized two of them had been damaged. Again Britt Rice came to the rescue! They opened up their warehouse to find two of these breakers that were needed to fix the switchgear.

SSC Electrical Specialist Mack Kay was brought in to oversee replacement of the breakers, ultimately restoring power to the building in time for 8am classes on April 25. Thankfully, the goal of not having any missed classes was met.

The temporary generator had been pulled out about 4:30am and power was restored to the freezers along with the rest of the building.

By the next day, SSC plumbers had repaired the original leak and put in the proper fitting.

Dr. Pierson would like to thank everyone involved from the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology. He remarked, “I was present for much of the evening, and was impressed by their responsiveness and determination and dedication to solving a problem with potentially serious consequences.”

Thanks to the many SSC Maintenance teams who were involved in helping to respond and resolve this major work request. A big thank you to our Night Crew, Plumbing, Electrical, and HVAC teams. What a tremendous demonstration of teamwork!

Thank you to Paul Tisch, Director of Operations-Maintenance, for providing information.

Special thanks to Dr. Leland (Sandy) Pierson III, Professor and Head, Plant Pathology and Microbiology, for information and review.

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