Chipmunks cause campus power outages

Courtesy of Unsplash via Amy Kramer

Within the first month of the semester, Vassar experienced two mass power outages. A chipmunk caused both incidents. The first blackout occurred on Sept. 7 at 8:25 p.m., with power restored by 9:35pm. Another blackout happened on Sept. 25 at 11:25 p.m., for which power returned at 12:40 a.m.

Associate Vice President of Communications Gladwyn Lopez explained the cause for both outages was a chipmunk in the South Commons high voltage switchgear. Additionally, The blackouts were isolated to campus and did not affect other off-campus areas in Dutchess County.

Vassar College electricians served a leading role in solving the problems. “They were called in to reset the circuit breaker at the substation, check the cause of the outage, and were responsible for restoring the power to normal operation,” Lopez said. Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation – the energy services company which controls the power on campus – initially responded to the incidents, but Vassar’s own electricians were ultimately able to fix the outages themselves.

During both instances, the west side of campus from Collegeview Avenue to the South Commons lost power. According to Lopez, something tripped one of the circuit breakers and affected the quad dorms. He explained, “The power is supplied by two circuit breakers at the substation and the impacted buildings depend on which breaker is tripped.” A circuit breaker is a device that can stop the flow of electricity around a circuit by switching itself off if anything goes wrong. 

Students received an email notification from the Office of Safety and Security when the first outage happened. However, an email was not sent during the second blackout. Director of the Office of Safety and Security Arlene Sabo explained the power was back before the supervisor could send out the email. “The supervisor on duty at the time of the Sept. 25 power outage ran into technical problems accessing the “all” email lists, as he was busy in the field responding,” said Sabo.

“We didn’t receive any sort of email from [Vassar’s administration] explaining the cause of the outage, which wasn’t worrying as much as it was confusing,” recounted  Lathrop resident Tommy Shenefield ’23 who was in his dorm room during the second outage.

House Advisor for Strong and Raymond Suzanna Stockey shared her experiences during the power outages. “When the first power outage happened on [Sept.] 7th…we had no idea what was going on, I had first advised students to wait outside of the building, as is standard with fire alarms,” she said. Stockey walked around the quad houses with House Advisor for Jewett, Lathrop and South Commons and Assistant Director of Residential Life Molly Murray to check for any students in distress. As Murray and Stockey received word that students were safe to be in their rooms or could wait in places that had power, they delivered the information to students. They took the same actions during the second blackout. 

Director of the Libraries Andrew Ashton explained the first power outage happened while the library was open. “The library staff first checked that the backup lighting was working in areas such as stairwells and fire exits,” he recalled. “Meanwhile, we tried to find information about the outage in order to determine whether power would return quickly … Shortly after, we decided to close the library out of caution, since there was little information available.” She continued, “Just as the staff prepared to clear out and lock the building, the power returned and so the library remained open.” The library was closed during the second outage.

Not all students were alarmed by the outages. “The first time was fun. We played spooky music,” recalled Alex Tansey ’22. “The second time [I] was trying to sleep and then couldn’t [because] the power turned off my fan and white noise machine and loud drunk college students were talking all night outside my window,” she added. 

The College has taken action to avoid future rodent-related power outages. Lopez explained, “To help prevent similar occurrences, crystals that are supposed to deter the animals from entering the area were laid.”

Since the use of the crystals, there has not been another power outage. 

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