MIT power outage

At about 1pm this afternoon, the entire MIT campus suffered a complete power outage, the first time such an event has occured in my 5-year tenure here. I was in the lab at when the power cut, and I was lucky enough to catch the sound of some 50 computers just outside my office spinning down simultaneously. The power was off for about three hours, at which point we began picking up the pieces of our poor, beaten network.

MIT maintains their own power cogeneration plant which supplies the campus and a good part of Cambridge through an exchange with NStar Electric. Talking with friends in the area it appears that much of the city went offline for some time, but was restored long before MIT powered up. This outage doesn’t seem to appear on the New England power consumption stats, but I assume that is because MIT maintains its own grid. Thankfully, MIT maintains its own statistics on the cogenration site, which I’ve cached below:

mit power consumption, 5-3-04
MIT Power Consumption, 5.3.04

There hasn’t been any news yet as to the cause, but I would expect it to at least make the local news (it seems like a pretty major event, considering that it took a full 3 hours to restore power to the campus). It wasn’t anywhere near the magnitude of the recent blackout in New York, but it did have a similar socializing effect, as people crawled out from under their desks and scurried outside into the jarring sunlight. Frankly I’d be happier if they threw the switch on a regular basis, just to test people’s ability to communicate face-to-face, a sort of fire drill for social interaction.

May 4: The MIT newspaper has covered the story, citing that an outage of this magnitude has happened only once in recent history.

The Globe reports that many Verizon customers lost voicemail when their data center in Cambridge went offline yesterday.

4 thoughts on “MIT power outage

  1. Hmmm…geeks,’ll never work…mind you, when I lived in student halls it wasn’t the electricity that was the problem. In the first, a Victorian brick monster and Grade 1 listed building it was usually the 0300 fire alarms that had that “Hey! You must be a neighbour!” effect, as far as you can be sociable when jerked out of REM sleep by something like the red-alert klaxon in a submarine movie. Mind you, some people I knew found girlfriends whilst waiting out there for the Fire Brigade to let us all go back to sleep. Later, I was in a 1960s breezeblock hellhole designed by an architect who specialised in prisons. The problem there was the water supply – I fondly recall spending ten days without heating or hot water in December after they drilled through a steam pipe and then found it was surrounded by asbestos..

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