My office had the mother of all power outages yesterday around 5:20 pm, just as I was thinking about packing up and heading home. The power continuously flickered for a good thirty seconds straight (!); it took me at least ten of those seconds to figure out what the devil was going on and finally pull the power cord out of the back of my computer, after watching it try to boot multiple times in a row.
When the power stabilized, half of our lights were out, and another bunch were flickering wildly. Our egress lights (i.e. the bulbs you see on either side of those “Exit” signs) were on, which I think is the first time I’ve ever seen them in action. At least two computers were beeping loudly and repeatedly; the one I was able to echolocate had a red power light instead of its usual blue, and defaulted to beeping at me when I tried to boot it. The air conditioning units on the roof struggled to turn on, eventually gave up, and then struggled again to turn on. A coworker’s fan, which had been running at the time, now lazily spun its blades. (As in “stick your finger in there without risking injury” lazily).
A loud, constant electrical vibration and hum emanated from the back maintenance room. The smell of failing florescent lighting—an acrid, burning electrical stench—started to fill the rear of the office.
Attempts to contact people who might actually know something (e.g. maintenance numbers) ensued, all while that electrical hum—the clear and present danger of the moment—continued unabated. We finally got a hold of the fourth person we tried, our old boss, and he kindly came in to try and figure out what was wrong.
There are at least five circuit breaker boxes in the maintenance room. Two of them are marked “OUT OF SERVICE”, and the others have helpful labels such as “deep fryer.” (There is no deep fryer. The place was a Kinko’s previously. I do vaguely recall my dad telling stories about how that building used to be a grocery store, though, back when he was a kid.) After isolating the humming box, Old Boss somehow managed to find a breaker that shared the same label—”Roof Cell”—and threw it.
While Old Boss fiddled with the other circuits, resetting them for the halibut, the power cut out for real.
I made my way to the server room to shut down the machines nicely, while the others packed up and headed out. The servers had already lost power, though, despite being on a UPC big enough to store a body or two in. Figuring I had done what I could do, I went home as well.
I decided to go to sleep “early” that evening, and so was getting ready to go to bed just after midnight. While brushing my teeth, I wondered if I had turned the office’s overhead lights—the ones that had been giving off an electrical burning smell—off. I cussed.
I had not. Somehow, though, the place was in fine shape. All the lights were working; the various foul smells were dissipating; the servers were on; the machine that wouldn’t boot earlier now was well-behaved. One copier broke, but that’s nothing compared to what I thought we were facing.