The University Record, October 11, 1999

Computing, network services back in operation after fire

By Wanda Monroe
Office of the Chief Information Officer

Computing and network services to the University community are operating as usual after a fire that broke out in the North Campus Computing Center building shortly after midnight Sept. 30 brought down a large segment of the University’s computing network. The fire is believed to have been caused by an electrical short in the wiring to the batteries used as backup for the building, according to Bob Patrick, associate director, Department of Public Safety (DPS). The fire was contained in the battery room, located in the electrical substation area of the building’s basement.

As many as 20,000 students, faculty and staff could not access e-mail, electronic files stored in the Institutional File System or the Internet when power was shut down to allow firefighters to ensure that the small but intense fire was fully extinguished.

The network and computing equipment in the building was not directly damaged by the fire, but was covered by a fine layer of soot that required cleaning before it could be put back into service. In addition, staff from the Collaboratory for Research on Electronic Work, Merit Network Inc. and the School of Information Science were forced to vacate their offices.

Much of the equipment in the Computing Center building had been moved to the University’s new Arbor Lakes Data Facility before the fire occurred. A decision was immediately made to move the remaining networking and computing equipment to the Arbor Lakes facility, where it was cleaned and put into service.

The Information Technology Division (ITD), Merit Computer Network, DPS, Plant Operations, Occupational Safety and Environmental Health, Risk Management and the Ann Arbor Fire Department staff responded immediately to ensure public safety and to restore computing services to the campus.

They worked around-the-clock until services were restored. Basic networking services to most of the campus were available by 8 a.m. Sept. 30 with intermittent interruptions throughout the following two days as systems were tested and restored. Continuous updates on the status of the outages were available on telephone help lines and on the Web as Internet access became available.

“ITD and other staff were remarkable,” Patrick says. “Hats off to all involved for getting us back in business so quickly.”

“The more reliant we become on technology in meeting our academic mission, the more critical the need to ensure that consistent, reliable and robust services are available to the University community,” says Jose-Marie Griffiths, university chief information officer and executive director of ITD. “Nevertheless, accidents do happen and we will respond immediately to any emergency that takes down our systems.”

All University disaster recovery plans are currently being updated as part of the Y2K rollover event. Griffiths has requested a review of all major data centers at the University to ensure emergency preparedness measures are in place.

A final estimate of the cost for repairs, replacements and smoke damage to the building is unavailable, but the figure is expected to be in excess of $1 million. No injuries were reported.