Inclement weather has delayed thousands of dollars’ worth of research at the Yale School of Medicine over the last two months.
Since mid-August, storms and natural disturbances have caused four power outages related to United Illuminating — the power supplier for the University’s campus — and five shortages overall. One such outage occurred at 2:00 p.m. last Thursday when half of the buildings on the medical campus lost power for 20 minutes due to a construction accident caused by United Illuminating, according to an e-mail sent to the School of Medicine faculty Friday afternoon. The outages have caused thousands of dollars’ worth of damages and setbacks to experiments, so Yale Facilities is currently in negotiations with United Illuminating officials to avoid future power losses, United Illuminating spokesman Edward Crowder said.
Thursday’s outage occurred after a United Illuminating contractor accidentally jostled a cable while renovating company equipment on Water Street, Crowder said. The contact decreased the power system’s voltage and caused the School of Medicine to lose power.
Although the outage only lasted for 20 minutes, cellular biology professor Diane Krause said some experiments, including her own DNA sequencing analysis, were interrupted, with restarting costs exceeding $4,000.
“Nothing was lost irretrievably except the money used to repeat the experiments,” Krause said.
Professor of Cellular Biology and Genetics Haifan Lin was working on a $5,000 DNA sequencing experiment when the power failed, he said. While Lin said he can restart the experiment in two days, the new project will cost an additional $5,000 to run.
A previous power outage interrupted Krause’s work on another $6,000 experiment which involved expensive materials, including laboratory mice.
Crowder said the other power shortages caused by United Illuminating were triggered by uncontrollable events such as lightning and interference by animals. But Crowder said there is technology on the market that will ensure equipment does not lose power in emergency situations but Yale does not currently use this technology. He said he recommends that Yale pay for the necessary wiring between United Illuminating and the University’s Sterling Power Plant, the central power provider for the University.
“We’re working with Yale to see if there are ways we can improve the reliability of interconnection of two systems,” Crowder said.
Because of the huge impact of power outages on experiments last Thursday, Krause said School of Medicine Facilities officials are currently purchasing the necessary supplies to ensure that laboratory equipment like DNA sequencing machines and freezers housing rare samples are unaffected by power outages.
In an e-mail sent to School of Medicine faculty on Friday, Director of Facilities Operations Louis Annino said Facilities representatives will meet with United Illuminating officials to demand that they upgrade their equipment and practices to prevent future interruptions.
“The frequency with which these [utility failures] have occurred over the past several weeks is entirely unacceptable,” Annine said in the e-mail.
Beyond laboratory equipment, the power outages affected basic software like e-mail clients.
Krause said she lost several e-mails pertinent to her laboratory work during Thursday’s outage. Though Krause said she lost all messages she sent and received in September, she is confident that Yale Facilities will be able to retrieve the lost information.
United Illuminating provides power to 324,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers in New Haven and Bridgeport.