Twenty-plus Hours of Darkness – The Midwestern Blackout

The Big Black

The 14th of August was going to become a day I will remember long and well. I was already busy enough but had to push myself to get some high priority stuff done. I had to prep for a meeting with my boss. We had to discuss the hiring of more safety escorts for the campus police department. Safety Escorts work for the police, they provide safety escorts, patrol the campus, staff sign in desks, help to lock and unlock the campus and are, basically, extra eyes and ears for the Police Department. Formally they are called Community Service Officers, we generally call ourselves CSOs. I am the student supervisor for the program. Fall semester would soon be upon us and we needed to rapidly fill our roster. Reviewing applications would be my life for the next few days or so I thought.

I had made sure I was prepared I had woke early and spent the better part of the morning mulling over 50-some applications. I dumped all the data from all the online applications, hand entered the rest, prepared a tentative fall schedule for those who were already employed by us, and started looking for applicants who could fill the holes.

I then headed to the schools computer lab because my printer was out of black ink. This did not make me happy. I am not very fond of my school’s labs. Soon after my arrival, it became apparent there was a problem. Nothing Microsoft was working… Yeah blaster…. So now I had to fix that… It’s not even noon yet, and it’ looking like one of those days. A few hours later, a printer finally spit out a four page report of whom I thought we should hire prioritized by references and availability of course.

At 4 PM, we began our meeting. My boss was just complimenting me on my organized report when bam! out went the lights! No biggie we first thought, the radio informed us that it was campus wide… minutes later we were informed it was downtown to the west suburbs, minutes after that from Detroit to New York. The president had ordered the university closed. My boss looked at me and said “Your gonna need this.” as she handed me a radio.

It was also looking like our next move was going to have to be Health Services and make sure they “cleared”. This just made sense since the boss and I were on the ninth floor and Health Services is on the fifth. No real problem just 4 flights of stairs with varying numbers of steps per flight in the absence of any light source other than a pen light. Clearing was easy, there was only one doctor left and she was busy unplugging equipment. Meanwhile, my boss’s radio blazed with calls to me. My subordinates wanted to know what to do. I walked away from my boss and the doctor so the radio chatter wouldn’t interfere with their conversation.

Then it dawned on me, exactly what we should do… I had little or no idea. My military background put me in command decision mode. I told them to hold their traffic. I checked with my plan with my boss who simply looked over and said ” do it”.

One of my CSO’s was actually at the sign in desk in the same building we were. I knew from earlier traffic that we were the only four in the building. I told him to lock it and leave. I told him to move to the east end of campus, start clearing the buildings, check the elevators, and lock the buildings.

Other than myself, there was only one other CSO on duty. He was posted at the law library. It was not yet closed so he could not leave. Basically, there was not much more we could do.

Several Minutes later I was asked to report to station, and get busy. We had people trapped in elevators, people trapped behind automatic doors, fire alarms blaring and someone was having an asthma attack on the 14th floor of one of the buildings.

This had just turned into a long night. The police were gonna have there hands full. The word was given to shut down the campus. This meant we had lock it, check every room, make everyone leave and if it couldn’t be locked. Fortunately, the other CSO who was staffing a building was now free to leave and the night shift was just coming on duty. The day shift was informed they weren’t going home. The duty officer then assigned each of us a post.

There were doors and loading docks we could not secure. They had to be guarded so the eight escorts were assigned such posts or placed in areas of visibility. There is something reassuring seeing a bright orange shirted person in an otherwise dark city.

I ended up posted at the local public radio station which rents space from us on a remote, the most remote, corner of our campus. The rear entrance has a mag lock door which does nothing in a power outage.

This also meant that my dinner would consist of nothing more than six Oreo. This would really start to hurt after an eleven hour shift. After about an hour, the duty officer reassigned us. I was instructed to assist with trying to secure unlocked doors. This meant that any loading dock doors had to be cranked down by hand. Mainly due to the ingenuity and drive of the duty officer, we succeeded.

By now it was getting quite late, and the duty officer and I had to figure out who to send home. Students are not allowed to work overtime. We also had to staff the radio station since they were going to stay open and we could not lock them in.

By now Cleveland was quite dark, one quarter of the campus had absolutely no power, and we could all see something we normally don’t in downtown… stars. Even with the nearly full moon, one could still see hints of the Milky Way and mars shined brightly. We all tried to make the best of things and took a few moments to admire the night sky and ignore our grumbling stomachs.

The campus now had a much different feel to it. Instead of the drone of AC units we now heard the humming of generators. Very few lights gave it the eerie look of a bad horror movie. The City mayor had ordered a dusk to dawn curfew so the streets, other than an occasional car were eerily quiet. I ended up finishing up the last part of my shift standing watch at the radio station. I do not ever recall downtown being this still and quiet.

Just after midnight, I was relieved. My stomach was now constantly reminding me that six Oreos were insufficient and I knew I would be needed in the morning. My one hour meeting turned into an eleven hour shift. I went home, had some sardines on bread, a cold beer, worked on this blog via candle light and Smart Phone, and seated in my room now without fans. I set the alarm on my phone and hoped it would be enough to wake me in the morning.

I awoke, even before my phone went off, still without power. I packed my back pack with what little water I had on hand, some canned goods and headed off the campus. The rest of my weekend would be one which varied from tedious boredom to hectic activity. The University’s President had ordered the campus until Monday. We had to escort any and all people to and from their offices or just sit and wait. Regardless, I maintained this status until I maxed out my hours Saturday about noon. (Yes, I worked almost forty hours in three days.) When I came home Friday, at least I had power. A hot meal, a hot shower did me well.

I have to get up and deal with the same situation one more day. Hopefully, Sunday will be better. I am hoping that people finally try and stop getting into the campus. Tedious boredom would be welcome about now. Heck, I can easily fill it by reviewing all the applications I was supposed to be looking over while I was busy fumbling about in the darkness. Would you believe that I actually had people wanting to come in and fill out an application during the blackout? hehe…

So that was my 2003 blackout adventure. I hope you all weathered it well and I wonder if we will have a baby boom due to this one…