Power Outage Hits College Night Before Classes; Causes Flashlight Party


Emily Ballou '21 posted this meme on Facebook after the power outage.


A power outage struck the college and parts of town Monday, plunging students here into darkness the night before the first day of classes.

The outage occurred just before 10 p.m., when a fallen branch struck utility equipment on the portion of Weybridge Street between Shannon Street and Murdock Court. Within the span of a few minutes, the power came back on, but then went out again for more than an hour.

According to Michael Moser, director of the college’s facilities services, the outage left the entire campus without electricity. The damage originated at the local substation, not on the college campus, and so the staff in Facilities Services did not immediately know the cause of the problem.

“A branch went down on some lines and knocked out power to about 600 customers,” said Kristin Kelly, the director of communications at Green Mountain Power, the electrical company from which the college sources its power.

GMP was able to restore electricity to the college by 11:36 p.m. that night.

Some students described hearing a jarring sound just before the lights cut out. Leena Chawla ’19.5, was walking across the field between Shannon and Weybridge Streets at the time. She was thus one of the closest people to the scene of the downed tree limb.

“There was a loud explosion sound and a flash of light before everything went completely dark,” Chawla said. “The power briefly came back on, and then the same explosion and light flash happened again before the power was out for a longer chunk of time.”

A branch fell on Weybridge Street and caused the outage.

During the outage, Lisa Burchard, the director of Public Safety, was tasked with keeping the campus community up to date through a series of emails.

The local substation, located at Marble Works, is responsible for distributing electricity across the region through transmissions. When interfered with, disrupted substations can result in an electricity shortage to a region.

The college last experienced an electrical outage this summer on July 4. In preparation for outages, Moser explained that 15 buildings on campus have emergency generators in place.

“These machines provide backup power to critical systems in these facilities,” Moser said, referencing heating as one such critical system.

Situated in Vermont, the college makes maintaining heat through the harsh winters a top priority. Facilities has full emergency power designated to the Central Heating Plant in the event that the campus loses electricity.

Student responses to the blackout were mixed. Some students were scrambling to finish assignments on laptops that were low power, while others found it quaint to breach the fire code for the evening and illuminate their dorm rooms with candles.

One first-year, Samara Scharf, said that the lack of light evolved into a makeshift social event in her dorm.

“The hall ended up having a mini-flashlight party,” she said.