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Power Outage Planning

Reviewed and updated November 21st 2022

The purpose of this information is to give members of the University community information on the potential impacts of power outages and some general guidance on how they can plan for and deal with power outages in a safe way.

For some members of the University community power outages will have a straightforward impact on their work and working area, for others however the loss of power can have complex impacts and give rise to potential safety issues. In particular laboratory and workshop activities will require careful advance planning in an environment where power cuts are scheduled or are highly likely.

Individual Schools, Unit, Research Facilities and Research Groups will be required to plan at a local level for managing operations during power cuts in a safe way. In some cases they will need to source equipment to help them deal with the impacts of power outages. Templates to assist in this planning are available in the quicklinks at the bottom of this page.

At all times the priority of the University is to ensure the safety of persons on campus whilst mitigating the impact of power cuts on University business continuity in so far as is practicable. In ensuring the safety of persons the University may have to impose temporary restrictions on certain activities and / or building access.

Power Outage Planning FAQ's

Individual Schools, Unit, Research Facilities and Research Groups will need to plan at a local level for managing their operations during power cuts in a safe way. Guidance templates are provided in the quicklinks below which can be used as a starting point for planning, however each entity will have its own idiosyncrasies which will have to be assessed and planned for.

Schools should have plans in place to deal with short term interruption to the delivery of face to face teaching and laboratory / practical classes. They may also need to consider how to manage examinations during a power cut. Due to the challenges posed by the loss of IT equipment, limited lighting and the interruption to safety systems in some laboratories, the ability to teach or to hold examinations during a power outage will be significantly reduced.

Schools, Unit, Research Facilities and Research Groups involved in laboratory and workshop based activities will need to identify for each laboratory and workshop the necessary steps to be taken in advance of any power outage and the limitations scheduled power outages will have on research capacity, in particular on plant such as fume hoods, gas detection systems, freezers, etc. They will also need to design a list of responses that have to be implemented in the event of a sudden power

Any contingency planning should include a communication piece that ensures all persons in the School, Unit, Research Facility and Research Group are aware of the steps they must take both in advance of and during a power outage.

Managers of technical or complex facilities may wish to develop a list of key operational staff whocan be contacted to enact any contingency plan.

Power outages can be scheduled or planned, in which case you will be given advance notice of when and for how long the power will be off for. However it is also possible that power outages could occur suddenly and without any prior notice.

Scheduled power outages allow for the advance rescheduling of affected activities, unscheduled power outages do not. Rescheduling of activities will form an important part of any local power outage planning.

The advice contained within this document allows for persons to plan for dealing with a scheduled power outage. If there exists a credible risk that power outages may occur without prior notification then persons must plan as if power cuts are likely without notice. The University will issue some more guidance in this latter regard as the national situation becomes clearer.

During an interruption to the supply of electricity all electrically powered plant and equipment in a building will stop working. Depending on the nature of the systems in your building internal telephones and Wi-Fi may also cease to function. Some buildings in UCD have generator backup which will be used to keep critical plant running but the majority of university buildings will lose full power.

Some critical systems such as fire alarms will remain functioning due to battery backup but in planning for power cuts you should assume that all of your electrical equipment including desk
telephones and wireless routers will cease working immediately.

The University data centres have generator backup, so most IT systems will remain accessible during a power outage. So whilst there may be no power across the campus you will still be able to access the IT systems if you can access the network, such as when working from home when there is a power cut on campus.

The risks posed by an interruption to power supply depend on the duration and timing of the event. Power cuts of longer than 3 hrs will result in all building lighting failing. After 24hrs fire alarms may cease to function. Critical safety plant such as fume hoods will cease to work immediately, potentially creating a chemical exposure risk. Ventilation and heating will cease. Building security doors / access control doors both internally and externally may ‘fail to safe’ and unlock. Desk telephones will cease working. An interruption to a power supply and / or fluctuations in the power supply especially when the supply is restored can also give rise to damage to sensitive equipment.

Emergency lighting is fitted to all university buildings and will come on during a power cut. This type of lighting is not designed to facilitate all working activities but rather to give building occupants sufficient time to make their workplace safe and to exit the building without risk.

Emergency lighting is designed to work for approximately three hours after which buildings may become dark making movement around the building difficult.

Once the power has been restored the emergency lighting batteries will recharge.

Once the power supply has been restored plant and equipment will become live once again. In some cases the fluctuations caused by the power outage and restoration can cause surges (short-term unstable voltages) or damage to sensitive electrical equipment. It is also possible that if a piece of laboratory, workshop or similar equipment restarts automatically once the power is restored that this could create a safety hazard.

Yes it does. Power outages during normal working or teaching hours will have an impact on a larger number of persons and also on business continuity. Power cuts at night will impact primary equipment and in particular the ability of experimental and similar work to run overnight. Night time power cuts will also impact on the ability of the University to safely facilitate 24hr access to designated buildings.

If the power fails during any class or examination then you will have enough time to bring the session to a safe end and direct students to leave the area and exit the building, noting that
emergency lighting will be available for up to 3hrs. This allows (if feasible) for a 50 minute lecture or a short examination to be completed.

For longer classes (including practical classes) or examinations it may not be possible to complete the full session given the lack of IT resources, the reduced lighting level, and in the case of
laboratories the loss of safety systems such as fume hoods. In these circumstances the class or examination can be brought to a managed end point over a period of no more than one hour.

In laboratory and workshop classes students as part of the response should be instructed on how to make their area safe before leaving and technical officers / demonstrators should oversee this work.

If the timings of power outages are known in advance and these will impact on teaching and examinations then measures should be taken to address the loss of this face to face teaching /
examination time and ensure the continuity of same.

If you are likely to encounter difficulties in exiting a building during a power outage, noting that lifts will cease to work, then you should liaise with your Manager as soon as possible about how you can be accommodated during both scheduled power outages and sudden power losses.

If a power outage is scheduled for a time when you are normally working in a UCD building you should discuss with your Manager suitable alternate working arrangements such as working from home for that period of time.

You should also consider what to do in the event of an unexpected power outage. If you need additional assistance to exit a building during a power outage you can contact Estate Services on 01 716 7000 or the 24hr Emergency Line 01 716 7999 for assistance (these telephone lines are baked up by generator power). You may find it useful to develop a Personal Evacuation Plan to assist you in this – see https://www.ucd.ie/sirc / contact (opens in a new window)sirc@ucd.ie for guidance in this area.

Managers should liaise with their teams to identify whether or not any of their team members will require additional assistance to exit a building in the event of a power outage. Staff should be encouraged to consider a Personal Evacuation Plan – see www.ucd.ie/sirc / contact (opens in a new window)sirc@ucd.ie for guidance in this area.

For team members who will have difficulty exiting a building in the event of a power outage, noting that lifts will cease to work, alternate suitable working arrangements such as working from home should be put in place for the scheduled power outage periods.

Generators are not at this time an option for buildings that do not already have one installed. Power Banks / Batteries / Uninterrupted Power Supplies fitted at a local level that allow for short term powering of equipment are acceptable but these have a limited life and can be of limited use (they may be useful if a piece of equipment has to be restarted during an outage for safety purposes or to maintain power to a piece of sensitive equipment that may be damaged by a sudden power cut thus giving users time to safely power down the equipment ).

No, the use of these and similar items is prohibited for safety reasons.

Ensure that fridges and freezers are not opened during a power cut and for at least 1-2hrs after the power has been restored. Ensure fridges and freezers are not overfilled Do not unplug fridges or freezers in advance of a power cut. Consider the storage of duplicate samples in liquid nitrogen or in an offsite location. If you manage -80 freezers with CO 2 backup consider your response to a CO 2 dump. If you have high value frozen samples or consumables check if these can be stored in a freezer in a building with generator backup. In the event of likely or scheduled power cuts operate a ‘just in time’ model of ordering temperature sensitive materials so as not to create a potentially vulnerable high value stockpile of materials.

This will depend on the nature of the loss and how and why it occurred. Note that under the terms of the University’s insurance policies we are required to take reasonable steps to protect insured property. This would extend to for example taking steps to protect equipment and temperature sensitive consumables when the timings of outages are known in advance.

If required you can enter a building to make an area safe, disconnect equipment, etc. as long as the emergency lighting is still functioning. However if the lighting is no longer working then you will need to be escorted by Campus Services personnel who will have access to torches. You can contact Campus Services on extension 7000 (this phone line is supported by generator backup) or by visiting the UCD Village Desk or Campus Services in Agriculture.

Due to the fact that access control system functionality is affected by power outages, access to buildings out of hours during a power cut must be arranged via Campus Services.

For safety reasons the University may restrict access to buildings during out of hours periods as a temporary measure if power cuts are scheduled or are a possibility. This means that researchers must plan their experimental work to take account of this potential for restricted overnight access.

Immediately following a power cut, building users should make their working area safe as required. The building’s emergency lighting will facilitate any such activities and will also allow for a safe exit from the building. However if a power cut lasts longer than 2hrs and is unlikely to be resolved before emergency lighting battery backups start to fail then building users will be asked to evacuate buildings if they have not already done so. In parts of a building with limited natural lighting continuing to work in the building when the emergency lighting has ceased may be unsafe, especially in the darker winter months.

Take care when re-entering a building after a power cut. Make sure the lighting in your working area has returned to normal. Carry out a visual check of your electrical equipment to ensure it has not been damaged. For high value or sensitive equipment perform functionality checks as soon as practicable. Ensure that laboratory and workshop safety systems are functioning. In the event that any damage is observed contact Campus Services on ext. 1111 or email (opens in a new window)maintenance@ucd.ie

Contact Campus Services on ext. 1111 or email (opens in a new window)maintenance@ucd.ie and someone will attend your location as soon as possible. Do not interfere with electrical distribution boards or trip switches following a power cut.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of the types of systems that are impacted by a power cut and consequently the types of scenarios that Schools, Unit, Research Facilities and Research Groups will need to plan for. As has been stated above, the complexity of planning for and dealing safely with power outages is much greater in laboratory / workshop operations than in other areas of the University and additional equipment may need to be purchased at a local level to help alleviate the impact of power outages and subsequent power reinstatement on sensitive equipment.

  • Lighting – Normal lighting will cease to function and a building’s emergency lighting will kick in. This type of lighting is designed to allow for safe passage through and exit from a building but not to support extended working activities. Emergency Lighting is battery powered and will remain lit for ~3hrs, this should be enough time for persons to safely bring teaching activities to an end, make their area safe (e.g. by capping chemical containers, disconnecting sensitive equipment from the power supply, etc) and gather together personal belongings and other items before leaving the building.
  • Fire alarms – Fire alarms will continue to function for 24hr using battery backups which are fitted to all such systems after which they will default to an activation.
  • Access Control Systems – Some access control systems (i.e. swipe card / fobs) will revert to battery backup whilst others will ‘fail to safe’ in the event of a power cut. In the latter case both exterior and internal access controlled doors could unlock and this has implications for building security and therefore out of hours access to buildings may need to be curtailed. In addition this may leave parts of buildings that hold dangerous or high value materials accessible to unauthorised persons. As a result of this potential scenario if power cuts are planned or are deemed likely you will need to make sure that high value equipment and hazardous materials are secured in so far as is possible.
  • Ventilation – Mechanical ventilation will cease operation immediately.
  • Fume hoods – Fume hood fans will stop and active extract will cease , as a result no uncapped chemicals or live experiments should be left running in fume hoods when power outages are expected or likely. Fume hood users may need to consider how an experiment can be made safe in the event of power outage before they leave the building following an unscheduled power cut. If an experiment is of a type that cannot be safely stopped once initiated and it depends on fume hood extract to proceed safely then it should not be started when power cuts are scheduled or are likely.
  • Biosafety Cabinets – As with fume hoods biosafety cabinets will lose power during a power outage so no uncovered material should be stored in a cabinet if outages are scheduled or are likely, and any material within should be made safe if the power fails before users leave the building.
  • Ventilated Chemical Storage – Actively ventilated chemical storage units will no longer be fully ventilated so users must ensure that all containers within are securely capped.
  • Compressed Gas Cylinders – Cylinders should be isolated at the manifold if possible and flow control valves placed in the closed position.
  • Experimental Work (General) – When power cuts are scheduled or are likely then experimental work requires a degree of planning. For scheduled power outages it is vital that researchers take account of the limitations that these power cuts will have on their ability to conduct research. For example during periods when fume hoods power will be cut off no experiments or open storage of chemicals can take place in these hoods. In advance of scheduled power cuts researchers will have to ensure that they have protected sensitive and high value equipment from damage and no processes are running that require power to maintain a safe state. In labs and workshops that depend on power for fume hoods, water cooling systems, etc. there may be safety risks if there are unexpected power outages, especially if these occur out of hours when experiments may be running unobserved. If the risk of unannounced power cuts is significant then this will require a change in planning as experiments and activities that depend on power to proceed safely will have to be undertaken only when an observer is present who can make the area safe in the event that there is an unscheduled power cut.  
  • Machinery / Equipment – Machinery and equipment will cease to work when the power fails. Once the power is restored some types of equipment will require an active intervention by a user to restart whilst some machinery / equipment will start to run again without any intervention from a user e.g. desktops will need to be turned back on after a power cut, whilst photocopiers will become ‘live’ once again without any intervention when the power is restored. If however a piece of machinery or equipment has the potential to automatically restart in an unsafe manner after the power is restored then it must be disconnected from the power supply or placed in the ‘off’ position as part of any power outage planning. For example if a bandsaw is in use when the power fails and it has the potential to restart without user intervention when the power comes back on then that would be unsafe, so as part of the users response to the power cut the bandsaw would be unplugged before the user leaves the area.
  • Phone systems – Some internal university phones will cease to work. There may also be an impact on your mobile phone if local masts are without power.
  • Lifts – Passenger lifts will no longer function. It is part of the Campus Services response to check lifts in buildings for entrapped persons during a power failure.
  • Gas detection systems – Laboratory gas detection systems will cease to function so users should turn off lab gas supplies and / or isolate cylinders if safe to do so. Users of cryogenics should cease work and make their workspace safe.
  • Intruder Alarms – In most cases intruder alarms will switch to battery power during a power outage but some may cease to work with immediate effect. The information above for access control systems should be referred to.
  • Heating Systems – All heating systems will cease to function.

  • Ensure that battery backups for any locally managed systems have been serviced. Estate Services will be checking centrally managed systems.
  • Place equipment controls into the ‘off’ position as appropriate. Fridges and freezers should not be turned off and there may be other equipment such as incubators, thermocyclers, etc. that you may want to keep turned on during an outage so it will resume operation (or hold temp) when power returns. This should be assessed on a case by case basis.
  • Isolate from the power supply electrical equipment that cannot be turned off as appropriate and if it is safe to do so. Ideally high value or sensitive equipment should not be left powered during an outage if possible.
  • Source and fit surge protectors to sensitive equipment to minimise the risk from supply fluctuations as the power is restored.
  • Consider fitting True in-Line UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) units to sensitive equipment that cannot be easily isolated or turned off. These units will both maintain a power supply to the equipment in the event of an outage and will also help protect it against damage caused by supply surges / Battery backups or power banks can be fitted to less sensitive equipment.
  • Avoid running equipment and experiments during periods when power cuts are scheduled or likely.
  • Check that fume hoods, ventilated chemical storage cabinets, biosafety cabinets, etc. have been made safe and do not contain active experiments, unsecured hazardous materials or uncapped volatiles in advance of a scheduled power cut.
  • Have freezer and chiller units inspected or services as necessary.
  • Ensure that your response plan to a CO2 dump into -80 freezers is up to date (remember CO2 is a chemical asphyxiant).
  • Disconnect / power down laboratory equipment whenever possible if power outages are scheduled or likely.

Contact UCD SIRC Office

University SIRC Office, Roebuck Castle, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.
T: +353 1 716 8771 | E: sirc@ucd.ie