UCI Campus Unplanned Power Outages

Facilities Management is committed to providing the campus with reliable electricity service. Electricity is supplied to the campus from the Central Plant combustion turbine, Southern California Edison (SCE), and rooftop solar electric panels.

UCI operates its own microgrid, with underground high voltage electrical distribution throughout the campus. Central Plant has the capability to operate the campus microgrid independent from SCE, making UCI an island that can operate normally in the event of an SCE grid outage.

While electrical service reliability in our area is above average, unplanned outages do occur and it is important to prepare. Keeping informed and prepared can help minimize the impacts of an unplanned outage.

Planned power outages affect emergency outlets every month for about ten seconds, due to emergency generator and automatic transfer switches testing monthly between 6-8 a.m. The test schedule by building is available online at: Generator/ATS Test Schedule. Rigorous monthly emergency power system full load testing is designed to model a real power outage as close as possible, and is required by law. Testing and maintenance uncovers and eliminates flaws which might prevent emergency systems from performing at full potential when needed for an extended real outage. The system must experience a loss of normal power for ten seconds before the emergency generator starts up and load is switched to the generator.

  • Inform your staff of the test schedule.
  • Avoid experiments which could be affected by a 10 second power outage that day.
  • After the test, check all equipment to make sure everything restarted properly.
  • Notify your Building Manager or Facilities Management of any equipment which does not turn back on, as a circuit breaker may need to be reset. Spread the power load across more circuits to prevent tripping breakers in the future.

Common causes nationally and locally are:

Common unplanned outage causes at UCI are:

Common Misconceptions:

  • Weather (high winds, storms, lightning)
  • High electrical demand
  • Animals contacting wires
  • Equipment failures
  • Vehicle accidents damaging poles or other equipment
  • Failed campus cables
  • Failure of SCE service
  • Flooding
  • Other unpredictable events, such as earthquakes
  • Emergency outlets are uninterruptible power
    • Emergency outlets experience a ten second outage during switch-over from normal power to emergency generator. A UPS is required for uninterrupted power.
  • Insurance will cover losses
    • Insurance coverage is not guaranteed and will be assessed by Risk Services on a case-by-case basis. Contact Risk Services with any questions.
  • If an outlet is open, the circuit must be available
    • Before connecting to an emergency outlet, Facilities Management recommends placing a work order with Electric shop to verify the existing outlet has capacity and is actually on an emergency power circuit.

To minimize the impacts of power outages on the UCI community:

  • Buildings have emergency exit lighting to assist in locating exits.
  • All exit doors will continue to function during a power outage.
  • In some buildings, emergency generators and transfer switches will provide back-up electricity during an outage. Facilities Management staff test and maintain these generators and transfer switches on a regular basis to help ensure they will perform as expected in outage situations.
  • OIT data centers have equipment to help protect critical networked servers and computers.
  • Facilities Management uses available resources to repair, improve, and expand the campus electrical infrastructure, making the campus electricity service more reliable and resilient.
  • Install Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS) to create a "ride-through" capacity.
  • House critical computers in centralized data centers, as appropriate. Contact OIT at 949-824-2222 for further information.
  • Install UL 1449 standard rated surge protectors. Computers can be damaged, not only from electrical surges and spikes, but as well as flickering, especially during bad weather. Surge protectors help protect equipment from these occurrences.
  • If the building has emergency generators with back-up circuit power, plug critical equipment into designated electrical outlets to receive power from emergency generators. There is only limited power available from these emergency power sources, so only the most essential equipment should use these circuits. Even with emergency electricity supply, devices will experience a brief service outage until the emergency generator starts and the transfer switch connects the generator to the system, approximately 30 seconds. See the section on "Ride-through" if you need uninterrupted power.
  • For research freezers and similar equipment, it is also recommended that alarm systems be used to automatically contact you in the event of a power interruption.

Understanding "Ride-Through" and what I should do prior to an outage to protect sensitive electrical research equipment

  • Most campus unplanned power outages last a few minutes to a few hours.
  • A UPS can provide to support sensitive research equipment during an electricity service outage while the emergency generator starts.
    • Because the standby generators sometimes fail to start, size and select a UPS to give time for an orderly shutdown.
    • For buildings without standby generators for laboratory equipment, a properly sized UPS should allow orderly shutdown of sensitive equipment.

To make power outages safer and less inconvenient you can:

  • Keep a flash light and spare batteries in a handy location. Check them regularly.
  • If you use a computer, back-up files and operating systems regularly.

Preparing for Unplanned Power Outages in a Laboratory
Develop an emergency plan specifically for your lab and inform anyone occupying your lab of their responsibilities.

  • Shut down experiments that involve hazardous materials.
  • Make sure experiments are stable and won't create uncontrolled hazards.
  • Check fume hoods and biosafety cabinets and take the following precautions, if applicable:
    • Stop any operations that may be emitting hazardous vapors, fumes, or infectious agents.
    • Securely cap any open containers.
    • Close fume hood and biosafety cabinet sashes.
  • Check equipment on emergency power to ensure it's running properly.
    • Note: It may take 20-30 seconds for emergency power to activate after a power failure.
  • Reduce electrical use and risk of power surges by:
    • Disconnecting from emergency outlets equipment that runs unattended, and
    • Turning off unnecessary lights and equipment.

Minimizing the impact of an electricity service outage on the campus community is a top priority. Facilities Management is staffed 24/7 and immediately responds to outages by identifying the problem, informing the campus community, and working to restore service safely and as quickly as possible.

Sources of Power Outage Information
Depending on the situation, some or all of these sources may have information about the outage:

  • Turn off all lights and unplug equipment and computers. Leave one light on to indicate when power has been restored.
  • Do not use candles for illumination due to fire risk. Use battery-powered flashlights instead.
  • Windowless offices without emergency lights should not be occupied during an outage. Where lighting is adequate, employees should continue working, unless otherwise instructed by a supervisor.
  • Employees who leave their offices during an outage should take their personal items and secure their work spaces.
  • Do not use a gas stove for heating or operate generators indoors (including the garage). Both could cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Do not open refrigerators, freezers, or other environmentally controlled rooms, during the outage. An unopened refrigerator can keep foods cold enough for a couple of hours. A half full freezer will stay cold for up to 24 hours and a full freezer for 48 hours. If you must eat food that was refrigerated or frozen, check it carefully for signs of spoilage.
  • If a traffic signal is not working, treat it as a stop sign.
  • If you are stuck in an elevator, push the alarm or help button and wait for someone to respond.
  • If you have questions or concerns during an outage, please contact Facilities Management at 949-824-5444.

If there is damage to university facilities or equipment, please email the details to UCI Risk Services. Risk Services can advise whether insurance claims can be made related to equipment damage from unplanned utilities outages or infrastructure failure.