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Calif. Power Outage Closes Campuses, Threatens Research

October 11, 2019

Citing fears about severe weather and possible resulting wildfires, Pacific Gas & Electric this week cut the power for large swaths of Northern California. The outages have affected up to 2.5 million people and resulted in the closures of several colleges and universities, while also threatening research laboratories, some of which lack adequate backup power systems, according to news reports.

The University of California, Berkeley, canceled classes Thursday, as power was out on the core campus. The university told students, faculty and staff members to stay away from campus, noting that some buildings were running on emergency power systems.

"There is no PG&E power, and the campus’s emergency power could fail if it is overloaded," the university said in a written statement. "While some buildings may appear to be functioning fully and normally, with lights on, for example, they actually are being partially energized through temporary battery backup, backup generators and, in some cases, power from Berkeley’s small co-generation power facility."

Also closed Thursday due to the PG&E shutdown were Mills College, Santa Rosa Junior College, Humboldt State University and Sonoma State University.

Several researchers at Berkeley took to social media or spoke to the news media to describe how the outage and inadequate backup power was threatening research labs and projects.

“Many friends and colleagues barely have enough emergency power to keep freezers cold and incubators running,” Julia Torvi, a graduate student and researcher at Berkeley, told The New York Times. “These two things hold millions of dollars of research, tens of years of effort, their contents being irreplaceable.”

Dennis Sun, a graduate student researcher in molecular and cell biology at Berkeley, on Twitter said he rescued thousands of crustaceans that were part of a research project.

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Paul Fain

Paul Fain, Contributing Editor, came to Inside Higher Ed in September 2011, after a six-year stint covering leadership and finance for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Paul has also worked in higher ed P.R., with Widmeyer Communications, but couldn't stay away from reporting. A former staff writer for C-VILLE Weekly, a newspaper in Charlottesville, Va., Paul has written for The New York Times, Washington City Paper and Mother Jones. He's won a few journalism awards, including one for beat reporting from the Education Writers Association and the Dick Schaap Excellence in Sports Journalism Award. Paul got hooked on journalism while working too many hours at The Review, the student newspaper at the University of Delaware, where he earned a degree in political science in 1996. A native of Dayton, Ohio, and a long-suffering fan of the Cincinnati Bengals, Fain plays guitar in a band with more possible names than polished songs.

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