Tuesday, May 22, 2018

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Electric Shop employees display bravery during blackouts

Very few Ohio University employees are faced with life threatening danger; however, Electric Shop employees in Facilities Management are exposed to this type of danger every day.

The transformers at their facility are responsible for taking 69,000 volts of electricity and lowering it down to 12,460 volts. This power is regulated through a computer system that monitors the building's two transformer setup. If one generator fails, the system is designed to shift the split transformer power to the still functioning transformer. However if the system doesn't make this shift, it results in a blackout in part of the campus.

Executive Director of Facilities Management Mike Gebeke and his electric shop staff are in charge of overseeing the power supply upkeep for the Athens Campus.

"When the computer works, everything works great. It can automatically transfer power to where it needs to go to hit the buildings," said Gebeke. "If the computer doesn't work, we have to get in suits and flip breakers manually."

This is when the job enters into a life threatening responsibility. The electrical technician that is chosen to make this manual switch is dressed in an electricity resistant suit and uses a 10-foot pole to restore power to the campus. Gary Carter, Jim Goodfellow and Jeff Daughtrey are the employees who operate the manual shift when necessary.

"They undergo annual training to update skills and practice safe work practices," said Gebeke. "Several employees have electrical contractor's licenses for the State of Ohio. In addition, Gary Carter is a recent electrical engineering graduate from Ohio University.”

The manual shift procedure was last implemented during a fall quarter power outage on Nov. 17 at 6:45 a.m.

"This is pretty dangerous if we have a fault inside the gear somewhere," said Gebeke. "And we can have what is called an arc flash which can blow somebody back up to 30 feet depending on what happens."

An arc flash is an electrical explosion caused by exposure between live conductors or a ground that can result in serious injury and even death.

According to Gebeke, it takes less than one amp to stop the human heart; in this procedure the employees are working with 2,000 amps.

"Our electricians on campus are highly trained and have been working here for at least 10 years," he said. "They keep the power on safely and respond to any emergency at a moment's notice."