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From the Director: When the Lights Went Out

SLAC Today

Friday - January 22, 2010

From the Director: When the Lights Went Out

Flooding along the SLAC linac. (Photo courtesy the SLAC ES&H Division.)

I wasn't quite asleep and I wasn't quite awake when the phone rang at 6 a.m. Tuesday morning. It was almost a relief to hear Sandy Merola say, "There is no power on the SLAC site" since my groggy brain was already hard at work imagining what the call could be about. As we were to learn later, a lightning strike on the 230 kV line up on Skyline had disabled a major power artery for the Peninsula. SLAC had gone dark. Because Stanford campus was also dark with no power, our normal 65 kV backup line from campus was also not available.

 A crew works to remove a fallen tree. (Photo courtesy the SLAC ES&H Division.)

By 6:30 a.m., Sandy and I decided that to ensure the safety of SLAC staff, only essential emergency personnel would be allowed on site. We did our best to get the word out to SLAC staff that the lab would be closed, including placing announcements on local radio and TV stations. We apologize to the many of you who drove to work in difficult traffic conditions only to be turned away when you got to the gate. The mitigation and recovery efforts were able to proceed much more smoothly without people at the lab. With computers down and buildings and hallways dark, the lab was not capable of supporting you or even providing you with a safe environment.

Mudslides near Sector 23. (Photo courtesy the SLAC ES&H Division.)

With the power down throughout the day, our focus on Tuesday was to ensure the safety of emergency crews as they worked to protect the SLAC site and equipment. We had many areas of flooding and some slumping hill sides. LCLS undulator temperatures were monitored, vacuum on klystrons in the linac gallery was watched carefully, and the "dominator" pumping truck shuttled between IR2 and SPEAR to keep the water levels under control. Generators were deployed to essential areas to protect equipment and control flooding.

The Facilities Division crews worked a long day on Tuesday. By late afternoon, PG&E told us that we would not get power back to SLAC before early evening. With dark coming on and tired crews who had been working a long day already, we made the decision to wait until dawn on Wednesday to start powering up the site.

The Emergency Response team at work. (Photo courtesy the SLAC ES&H Division.)

All was going according to plan Wednesday morning, with crews deploying to dry out high-voltage switches and bring power up, when a really vicious second storm swept in bringing thunder, lightning and more rain. All morning was spent just trying to hold our own. After the storm passed, crews deployed again and the site came back to life. By mid-afternoon the central campus buildings had lights. E-mail and internet were up, payroll checks were being processed and the damage from flooding in buildings was being evaluated and cleaned up.

Rainbow over the Research Yard. (Photo courtesy the SLAC ES&H Division.)

Many groups contributed to the safe, deliberate and timely response to this emergency: ES&H, the Computing Division, Site Security, the Guest House staff, Procurement, Communications, the Accelerator Directorate, and above all, the Facilities Division. The work was done safely, it was planned carefully, and the management of the lab and the Department of Energy were kept informed at all times of the status of the site and any threats to personnel and to equipment. The professionalism of the operations team, and especially the Facilities Division, was just outstanding.

Over those two days, my thoughts swung between my concern for damage to the site and impact to our programs, and my pride in watching the laboratory respond to the emergency in such an organized and professional fashion. I really do not like dealing with emergencies like this. But if I have to deal with them, I couldn't ask for a better team to support the effort. On Wednesday afternoon, for a brief moment, the sun came out and a wonderful rainbow graced the site. Just one of the bright spots in a difficult two days!

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