By: Riley Mayes, Staff Writer
On Sunday, October 24, the Gorham campus experienced an extended power outage that lasted until approximately 3 p.m. the following day.
There was light for some students living on campus, but larger appliances were not functioning, electronic devices were down and the heat was only partially working. Some lights were flickering and others were completely dark except for safety lights. Without power, many students living on campus were unable to attend Zoom classes or complete work.
According to Christina Lowery, the Director of Residential Life and Housing, it took a few hours to assess the cause of the power outage. It wasn’t until a contractor got on campus that USM got word that the outage would require a campus equipment repair that was likely to take some time.
“At that point, Alec Porteous, the Chief Business Officer, worked with some other folks to make some decisions that it just wasn’t going to be feasible for classes to take place the next day,” said Lowery.
Following the power outage, safety policies and procedures were enacted almost immediately.
“Our decision-making process enacts just as soon as the power goes out, and we just keep re-assessing that as we get more information about what our next steps are,” said Lowery.
All of the Resident Assistants (RAs) and Resident Directors (RDs) worked on rotation and conducted safety and fire rounds during power outages. They walked around the buildings every half an hour and checked in with students to see if they needed anything.
“Res Life emailed students four or five times over the course of the power outage. We were frequently turning over notices that were on the front of the residence hall doors and getting information out to our student staff. We were just making sure everybody knew we were there,” said Lowery.
If students needed a place to get work done, charge their cell phones, or warm up during the power outage, they could head over to Brooks Student Center, which has a backup generator. Student Activities put on programming throughout the day on Monday after classes were cancelled, hosting events such as trivia, karaoke and movies to keep campus lively.
Libby Chandler, an American Studies major and international student, said that she and her friends stayed at Brooks for the majority of the day Monday, starting early in the morning. “We ran to Brooks, grabbed a table with sockets and hung out there all day, just charging everything,” she said.
This blackout stands as the second outage in the past few years that lasted overnight. In 2019, an October windstorm left roughly 200,000 Mainers without power. All of USM’s campuses were affected and classes were cancelled for two days. Due to Brooks being the only building with a backup generator and the rest of the campus having little power, a decision was made by the emergency response team to close the campus. Dorms were closed completely, and all students were asked to take what they wanted with them and leave campus if possible. Those who couldn’t go home were housed temporarily in Brooks, where they slept on the floor and on couches.
“The worst part was not knowing what time it would come back on,” said Chandler. And if students were asked to return to their homes and vacate the dorms in the future, Chandler said, “It’s not like me and the other international students could be like, well, let’s fly home.”
Another obstacle faced by students was remote learning. Despite widespread cancellation of classes, some students were still expected to Zoom into class.
“There were a couple of professors who enacted snow-day plans, which would have been absolutely appropriate if it were a snow day,” said Lowery. This resulted in some students having to either move to remote learning or skip class altogether due to the lack of power and internet.
The repair was successfully made and power was restored to campus on Monday, October 25. Classes and campus returned to business as usual the following Tuesday.