A Big Operation in the Cold

Cause and effect: What started with a water pressure failure led to a loss of electric power—but where? Then, when the location was found, Facilities & Services professionals were ankle-deep in new, cold challenges.

During a mid-afternoon shift on a frigid Sunday, F&S Utilities & Energy Services (UES) professionals observed a loss of pressure in the Campus Chilled Water System. The system which typically operates at 50 pounds per square inch (psi) or more, in less than 30 minutes dropped down to 0 psi.

Moments earlier, across campus at the Roger Adams Laboratory, just east of the Main Quad, a transformer failed, causing a total electricity outage in the building, and, even more challenging, a burst chilled water coil was also found. More than 3-feet of water would collect in the basement before pumping began. The temperature outside was 5 degrees at 5 p.m.

Immediately, the F&S customer relations & communications team and service office were alerted to get out a message about chilled water pressure to the campus community encouraging building and facility managers to check critical systems. F&S staff also reached out directly to building contacts, as well.

Thanks to a full-court press by F&S, the source of the failure was found within two hours. Help started right away.

Approximately 120 people from F&S took part in the cleanup and repairs, representing shops that include electricians, plumbers, sheet metal, laborers, machinists, pipefitters, steam distribution, high voltage electricians, water station, elevator shop, refrigeration mechanics, operating engineers, temperature control, ironworkers, DDC electricians, energy management services, service office, transportation, building service workers, utilities administration, utilities chilled water plant, utilities distribution, and utilities pipefitters. All worked together in subfreezing temperatures overnight and into the following days to get the facility back to typical operations.

“Our organization’s response to this event was amazing, and they’d all tell you they were just doing their jobs,” said Rob Roman, UES director. “The integrity and perseverance these professionals showed helped us come together and accomplish an important goal on an emergency-level timeline.”

When urgent incidents occur on campus, general information and work updates will also be made available at the new F&S “Alerts” page, https://fs.illinois.edu/request/alerts.

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