November 12, 1999

Power surge leaves parts of VUH in dark

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Chip and Melissa Keeble spend some quality time with their three ‘babies;’ Hoover the cat, Kirby (center) and Windsor. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Power surge leaves parts of VUH in dark

It's impossible to predict precisely where lightning will strike.

And as Vanderbilt University Medical Center staff and faculty learned early last week, so is guessing what path a lightning strike's resultant power surge will take once it hits and enters an electrical system.

Early last week, on the night of Nov. 1, a large portion of Vanderbilt University Hospital — including the Emergency Department and several operating rooms — was left in the dark due to a power outage caused when lightning hit Nashville Electric Service's West substation.

The strike caused a powerful surge of electricity that eventually tripped a breaker in one of the several electrical vaults that regulate the flow of power throughout the medical center.

The same surge also blew a control circuit fuse on the emergency diesel-powered generator plant that serves as a backup for the main system. Because the fuse blew, the generator did not automatically switch on when power was interrupted.

The problem impacted about 20 percent of the hospital, including the main Emergency Department and several floors of the hospital, including several operating rooms.

Two surgeries, including a kidney transplant, were taking place at the time of the outage, but quick action on the part of physicians, nurses and staff prevented the patients from being adversely affected.

Power to 80 percent of the affected area was restored within 30 minutes.

Complete power to the whole facility was restored by 11:30 p.m., according to Ken Browning, director of Plant Services.