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Most UA Networks Restored After Electrical Problem Knocks Out Internet, Phone Service

Tim Ellis/KUAC

Internet connectivity and phone service is mostly up again today for University of Alaska campuses around the state, though some sporadic problems persist. Technicians repaired an electrical problem Wednesday afternoon that knocked out service for much of the day. The outage slowed or halted most routine office work and kept the university from offering such services as teleconferencing, online distance learning – and even earthquake monitoring.

Technicians with the University of Alaska’s Office of Information Technology worked into the evening Wednesday to restore internet connectivity and phone service at the state’s three main campuses that were knocked out by an electrical mishap in the facility on the UAF campus, where the network’s servers are based.

“Around 9:30, there (were) some contractors working in the Butrovich Building on the battery-backup systems, and something happened to cause a short in the building’s electrical system,” UAF spokeswoman Marmian Grimes said. “That in turn brought down our network.

Grimes says the short-circuit disrupted the statewide university system’s voice-over-internet protocol-based phone system. It also took down servers that host campus websites, as well as Blackboard, the system’s online distance-learning service, and internal administrative programs, like UAonline.

“So things like many university websites, (and) the record system that we have at the university, those things were down as well,” she said.

University of Alaska Anchorage spokeswoman Kirsten Olmstead says UAA’s website was among those that went dark for a few hours.

“We’ve had issues affecting multiple UA systems,” Olmstead said Wednesday. “And our IT call center reported that was gmail, Blackboard, Banner, UAonline and other related services.”

Credit UAF Earthquake Center
The UAF Earthquake Center monitors data from sensors around the state that detect seismic activity, like this temblor in the Aleutian Islands, and relay that information earthquake information to the public, emergency managers, scientists and engineers.

The outage kept the UAF Geophysical Institute's Earthquake Center from receiving input from its sensor arrays around the state, says spokeswoman Sue Mitchell.

“They were not able to receive data from the earthquake sensors that we have,” Mitchell said, “and they were of course also not able to push data out to their partners.”

Mitchell says no data was lost, because the earthquake information center records all input from its sensors. And she says some of that function could in a pinch be handled by the Alaska Volcano Observatory – which was not affected.

Karen Schmitt, dean of UA Southeast’s School of Arts and Sciences, thinks Southeast campuses weren’t as widely affected as others in the system. But she says Blackboard, the distance-learning service, was down.

“About half our instruction is online,” Schmitt said Wednesday, “so I think probably there will be inconvenience to students and faculty.”

UAF’s Summer Sessions and Lifelong Learning Director Michelle Bartlett also was worried about last night’s online summer classes.

“I mean the students – they’re going to be dialing in, and there’s going to be nothing there for them. And we can’t even communicate with them,” she said.

Bartlett says the outage gave her and her coworkers a chance to catch up on some decidedly analog work, offline.

“It’s like, things have ground to a halt and it’s a chance to clean up desks, clean out files, do things that we’ve been putting off,” she said. “It’s sort of like deferred maintenance.”

The UA Office of Information Technology had restored most phone service and internet connectivity by late Wednesday afternoon.

Editor's note: According to a status report on the OIT service desk line recorded this morning, “some services are still being restored.” 

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.