Section: News

Weekend power outage hamstrings on-campus operations

Weekend power outage hamstrings on-campus operations

The power outage forced AVI to shorten its dinner hours. | REID STAUTBERG

A severe thunderstorm caused a lengthy power outage across campus this past Sunday — a situation that proved difficult because of the number of remote classes and the recent quiet period announced the day before.

Students could not access the internet for several hours that afternoon and, due to the lack of daylight, Peirce Dining Hall only offered dinner service from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., leading to long lines that stretched through the atrium.

The power went out at roughly 1 p.m. on Sunday in Gambier and parts of Mount Vernon as high winds downed trees and damaged power lines. According to Campus Safety Director and Chair of the Kenyon Emergency Preparedness Team (KEPT) Michael Sweazey, a main power line in Mount Vernon that provides electricity to both the Village and campus was also damaged in the storm.

As American Electric Power (AEP) worked throughout the day to repair downed power lines and College staff addressed issues specific to campus, students received text and email updates about the changing conditions. 

According to Sweazey, KEPT convened virtually during the outage in order to coordinate the College’s response, especially with regard to the recently imposed quiet period restrictions. KEPT organized the response of several divisions to ensure public safety was not compromised during the outage. “At the center of all these action plans was how [our] response could accommodate social distancing,” Sweazey said. “There was never any serious safety concern in this particular outage.” 

However, students were concerned about the shortened dinner time on Sunday. At 3:19 p.m., the College notified students that the Peirce servery would be open from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.  Less than 10 minutes later, the College sent a revised update about dinner service: It would instead run from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. During this one-hour window, a large number of students convened in the building, making it difficult for them to maintain social distancing in lines that stretched all the way back towards the main entrance. 

According to Manager of Business Services Fred Linger, Peirce staff served 550 students in that hour. Linger said that Peirce staff opted for an hourlong window because of previous outage experiences. They had found that, once daylight diminished, cleaning and closing would become difficult. However, even with the long lines, staff knew they had to feed as many students as possible. “They were proud to take care of so many, so fast,” said Linger.

With no internet access or ability to charge devices, students inevitably faced challenges completing schoolwork on Sunday. Vice President for Student Affairs Meredith Harper Bonham ’92 said the College notified faculty of the outage, and asked them to extend “some additional grace” to students for assignments due during that time. The Kenyon Bookstore, which has its own generator, also remained open for students who needed to charge their devices, as is their custom during a power outage.

Before AEP restored power around 7:30 p.m., students found ways of mitigating the stress of the situation. Delaney Gallagher ’23 took comfort in the small break from academics. “I couldn’t use my phone or computer, but it was nice to disconnect for a bit and watch a movie my roommate had downloaded on her laptop,” she said. Others took advantage of the time to socialize in person. “I met up with some friends and listened to music and ordered food,” said Jonathan Pastor ’23. “Overall, I think [the outage] was handled in an efficient way.”

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