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This past Saturday morning, we experienced some weird stuff at the educational institution where I work.
About 9:15, some of the normal fluorescent lights throughout the main building went off — replaced by the emergency lights.
The building’s main alarm began to sound, along with a couple of different alarms in its utility room.
But in some rooms, the normal lights stayed on.
And about one-fourth of the library had its normal lights, while the rest of it had its emergency lights.
Throughout the building, PCs began to reboot themselves.
The normal lights all came back on.
Then they went off again.
Several different times.
And the ceiling speakers in several classrooms began to intermittently moan and buzz very loudly — even after I went into one classroom and disconnected them.
Even more oddly, one classroom appeared to be totally unaffected by any of the problems. Its computers and lights were working normally, and when I entered the room, its instructor wasn’t even aware that the rest of the building was experiencing all kinds of weird problems.
In the building’s utility room, the security guard discovered that several of the main electrical breakers and many of the minor breakers had tripped and were turned off.
So he switched them all back on again — which I thought was a very, very bad idea.
A very bad idea that also didn’t make any difference at all.
Then an instructor reported that they smelled a burning electrical smell in their classroom.
I investigated, but I didn’t smell anything.
Still, to be safe, we evacuated the entire building, while the security guard called the fire department.
And the president of the institution.
Based on what the security guard told her about the problem, the president surmised that something had gone wrong with one or more of the building’s air conditioning systems, and advised him to call the air conditioning repair people.
A few minutes later, with sirens wailing, five fire trucks, the fire chief’s SUV and one ambulance pulled up to the front of the building.
Firemen swarmed the hallways, classrooms, offices and utility room, lifting ceiling tiles and checking everywhere for any signs of danger.
After awhile, we sent all of the students, faculty and staff home. In case we could do anything to help, the dean, the security guard, the director of admissions, an instructor and I all waited outside the front door of the building. I said that, with so many things going so very weirdly wrong all at once, I suspected that it was probably not an air conditioning problem, but something much more simple-but-catastrophic, like maybe an animal had gotten into and shorted out one of building’s main electrical panels. And then I told them my Spottawub story.
After about 30 minutes, a fireman told us that we could wait inside the lobby, instead of outside.
After nearly an hour, the fire chief reported that, although they had discovered that there was no danger, there was definitely some sort of electrical problem. One of our main circuit boxes had “lost its phase,” so they had switched off all of the building’s main electrical breakers and had called the local power company to come and investigate. He concluded by saying that, depending on what the power company discovered, we might have to call a certified electrician to come out and solve the problem.
The fire chief drove away and the firemen all started to pack up their equipment to leave.
A few minutes later, a large power company truck arrived and drove around to the back of the building.
A little while later, after the firetrucks had all left, I walked to the back of the building, to see how the power company crew was doing.
I found them in the middle of packing up their equipment to leave.
Their supervisor informed me that they had discovered the cause of our problems.
The door to one of the huge electrical boxes behind the building had been cracked open, and a squirrel had crawled inside and shorted out some of the building’s main power lines.
A few minutes later, the security guard and I powered up all of the building’s breakers, and everything began to work normally, including the computers, servers and air conditioning.
When she learned what had caused us so much trouble, the dean turned to me and said, “That’s what you said! How is it that you know so much about so many different things?”
I smiled and replied, “I’ve done a lot of different things.”
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