Power outage from lightning strike disrupts campus, traps students in elevators

By William Mills-Curran

Staff Writer

By Emily Robinson

Asst. News Editor

A transformer on Maple Street was damaged by a lightning strike on Monday at approximately 1:20 p.m., resulting in a three-hour power outage throughout campus and parts of Framingham.

All buildings on campus lost power, causing disruptions to classes, meetings and on-campus facilities, including Sodexo dining services.

Priscilla Ress, Western Massachusetts’ regional media representative for Eversource, said lightning directly struck the transformer, resulting in an immediate loss of power to 4,000 customers. Ten minutes later, power was restored to all but 2,800 customers. Power was fully restored after the transformer was replaced by lineworkers three hours later.

Ress said Eversource’s transformers are designed to safely withstand lightning strikes so that damage is limited to as small an area as possible. On Monday, the transformer was not damaged, but completely destroyed.

The Framingham Fire Department responded to the incident at 1:37 p.m. because of triggered alarms on campus. FSU Deputy Police Chief John Santoro and Associate Vice President of Facilities and Capital Planning Warren Fairbanks said three occupied elevators stalled on campus, some for up to 20 minutes.

As soon as power was restored, the elevators returned to normal service, and all occupants were able to escape from them without injury.

Freshman Julia Langone said she was trapped in an elevator in May Hall for, “about half an hour.” She added, “I didn’t know if we were ever going to get out of there. It felt like forever and it was pitch black – it was pretty scary. … I was OK on the outside, but inside I was freaking out.”

Elevator entrapments are often the outcome of a power loss, according to Fairbanks, “a couple of our buildings, the emergency generator does power an elevator but the majority of them, they do not power the elevator.”

Fairbanks added various safety systems such as emergency lighting, fire suppression and fire pumps, as well as the entire campus police department are all powered by emergency diesel generators, which start automatically upon a loss of power.

Loss of power to residence halls also left card-activated doors disabled. Hope Singas, ARA of Horace Mann, said, “People were stuck outside, so we had to call campus police and we decided to open the door for a while. We had the SDAs checking names with a roster and making sure people that were supposed to live there were coming in.”

During the three hours of repairs, several buildings were subject to intermittent interruptions of power as lineworkers from Eversource replaced the transformer. Corrective maintenance often requires power be secured for the safety of the workers, which was why some buildings were without power longer than others, Fairbanks said.

Setbacks on campus also affected school clubs like WDJM, which lost broadcast time and had to delay training of new members due to the loss of power. As of Wednesday, WDJM was still working through some material damage that was a result of the electrical transient and was still not broadcasting.

As classrooms went dark some professors opted to cancel their afternoon classes.

Senior Jessica Holland said, “My class was cancelled, so my professor told us to do an outside activity – then we went to McCarthy and realized that everything was closed.”