I know lots people who work at the U of M, not just the ones who work with my husband. Tuesday morning, one of them sends me an e-mail saying, “Wow, did you hear about the fire in WBOB?” This is the West Bank Office Building, the building in which my husband works. Everyone knows my husband works there, since his location next to the bridge means we give details to people who want a better picture of how the rebuilding is going.
I haven’t heard any such thing, and I immediately hit the local news sites. Nothing. Front page at the U. Nothing. Google’s local feed. Nothing. I shoot an email back asking for details. I haven’t heard from anyone who works in the building, which is a good sign, right? Nobody expects me to have heard anything they need to reassure me about. Or so I’m hoping. Either way, if they have work to do, I don’t want to interrupt.
I try to do a little work myself, but between sending and checking email and the news, not much is getting accomplished. Apparently the person who sent me the original email has abandoned their computer–or they want me to suffer, but I’m trying to be generous, knowing I’m a wee bit overwrought. Everyone else has evaporated. Still nothing.
Finally, I give in and call my husband. “So, what’s this about a fire at WBOB?”
It turns out fireball is more accurate. A transformer outside the building took itself out most spectacularly. Everybody is fine, and he’s working from a remote location to keep the most essential systems up. He’s busy. Has to go.
Okay. That’s not too bad. They have contingency plans for just this sort of thing. I go back to work. Then, finally, people start forwarding me the information I’d been asking for–emails sent to U students and staff.
From 11:30 a.m.: “At approximately 11:00 a.m. today (July 1), a power line was accidentally cut in the construction zone outside the West Bank Office Building (WBOB), causing a fire. By noon today, the Office of Information Technology will be shutting down the servers in the WBOB location to prevent damage…Access to e-mail is not affected.”
From 12:30 p.m. “Due to a power outage at the West Bank Office Building several services have been shut down by OIT. Our connections to the internet, e-mail and calendar systems remains functional.”
By 2:30 p.m. we find out that “Some E-Mail users” are affected. I’m guessing the users already knew that and that the message wasn’t going to do them much good. The best part of this message, though, is “The new Enterprise Financial System was not affected by the power
outage and was not the cause.”
Uh, duh. EFS is a PeopleSoft app. That may make it evil (just sayin’, PeopleSoft), but it’s not going to give it the power to take out a transformer. Hmm. Sounds like there’s some pretty heavy pressure from above to make sure absolutely nothing goes the littlest bit wrong with the EFS implementation, doesn’t it?
But I’m all set now, I can kick back and relax and wait for details from my husband. Who doesn’t call. Poor thing, I think, I hope he doesn’t have to work so late he can’t make it to class. Of course, what I don’t know is that he got off work early and fell asleep under a tree on campus while listening to his Science Friday podcast. I love him dearly, but….
I found all that out the next morning, when I finally saw him, along with a bunch of details that don’t belong in a public blog post. I promise: it’s boring technical stuff about how the U’s systems work together. I can’t share, but unless you’re a complete geek, you’re not missing much. Instead, I’ll leave you a bit from another email I got later on Wednesday, this time from someone who does work in WBOB.
“See that thing in the photo? That’s the transformer outside my building. It fucking exploded yesterday, caught fire. This was some truly biblical shit – in my office, the ground done _quaketh_. “
“The fire looks small, doesn’t it? That’s because the top piece of the transformer got bent upwards by about 45 degrees in the explosion, sort of hiding some of the flames. When I made it down to ground level, and walked by the transformer, the flames were about 12 to 18 inches high. The transformer is oil-cooled, so it had some fuel to burn.”
It does look tiny, doesn’t it? Awfully small for such a big boom.