Power outage results in multiple leaks and floods on campus

by | Jan 31, 2024 | News

A power outage during the city’s extreme cold snap last week caused at least 17 water incidents all over NAIT’s main campus. During the power outage, NAIT’s fan systems were momentarily shut off, which led to the building experiencing negative pressure. As a result, the extreme cold began to invade the campus buildings, bursting some pipes and causing some flooding. 

The negative pressure “pulls in cold air from everywhere it possibly can,” explained Steve Reid, Director of Facilities Management. The buildings were under this pressure for anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes, and Reid explained that the extremely cold air can have a big impact. “If you can understand -35 degree air coming in from every nook and cranny, every crack, under a door, everywhere without adequate heating going on at the same time, it can quickly impact pipes, impact heating and cooling … impact anything that contains water.” 

Some of the leaks were small, “just like a very slow drip,” while others were much larger, like in the CAT building, where one of the sprinklers let go. “Sprinklers are designed to deliver a lot of water very quickly. And they do that. It often takes half an hour to get that water isolated and shut off,” said Reid. 

Reid said many of these events occurred in the middle of the night, so emergency staff and contractors had to be called in. “The first thing you do when you get a water call is a) turn off the water and b) clean up the water … So with each one of these events, whether it’s a few drips or whether it’s a cascade of water, those are the steps we follow.”  

After the water has been removed, Facilities staff now need to sanitize and remove any wet material. “We’ve mitigated the water and leakage in a very timely manner on every one of these, and the amount of damage is surprisingly small for the amount of water we’ve had on the floor,” said Reid. To protect the people and building, staff will go through a process of checking everywhere the floods impacted. “We actually intervene and we remove any wet materials. Wet drywall, wet insulation. And we replace it with dry.” 

Dealing with such a high number of incidents takes a major effort from NAIT custodians, staff and contractors—something Reid said did not go unnoticed. 

“We’re asking them to come in the middle of the night when it’s cold, you know, and that response has been very good … it’s really opened our eyes to how good the cooperation can be.”

“We have consultants working with us, we have contractors working with us. This is a big effort that does take time, and so far, the feedback we’ve got from the community has been very supportive, and we do appreciate that,” said Reid.

While Edmonton’s winters seem to be getting colder each year, Reid doesn’t foresee an issue like this happening again. “We lost power at a very critical time,” he explained. “I’ve been in facilities for 35 years. I have never seen this amount of freeze ups and this many incidents.”  

As their efforts continue, NAIT students and staff can expect to see cleaning and construction projects across campus. Walls may be cut open to replace wet materials or areas may be cordoned off where contractors are still working. Reid asked that people continue to be patient and understand that this is part of the cleaning process. 

Cover photo via Amy St. Amand

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