Minor explosion causes campus-wide blackout

Around 1 a.m. on Wednesday, the College experienced a campus-wide blackout. The power outage originated near Greylock Quad, where students were evacuated after a Williamstown Police Department officer reported what appeared to be a minor explosion on Route 2.

The explosion was caused by extreme weather conditions: Wind speeds ranging from 40 to 60 miles per hour warranted a tornado advisory for the Berkshires and caused considerable tree damage. A fallen tree limb broke a high voltage power line by Perry on Route 2. Multiple students reported seeing the explosion.

“When [the power line] hit the wet grass, it arced, which appeared as a fire or minor explosion to the people who witnessed it,” said Steve Klass, vice president for campus life.

The sparks that several students witnessed may also have been caused by the recloser on the utility circuit, a device that opens and closes the circuit to check if a ground fault is cleared.

The College’s response to the power emergency was efficient.

Along with the help of the local police officer who reported the problem and kept bystanders away from the line surrounding the scene until authorities completed the repair, Campus Safety and Security, Facilities and staff from the National Grid collaborated and controlled the situation.

“Campus Safe[ty] immediately contacted Facilities staff per our power outage emergency communication protocol,” Klass said.

However, when Facilities staff arrived, “National Grid were already on site working on the problem,” he said. In keeping with internal protocol, College staff continued communication with National Grid until the repair was complete.

During the two-and-a-half hour power outage, hallways and common areas remained lit by emergency generators.

The College’s electrician “inspected affected buildings to ensure that our emergency generators and lighting systems were operating without interruption,” Klass said.

Due to the collective work of campus authorities and National Grid, power was restored by 3:25 a.m. on Wednesday.