Power surge costs state $500,000

OLYMPIA — A power surge that recently shut down Washington’s government websites and email for several hours will end up costing the state $500,000, officials said Tuesday.

The Department of General Administration estimates that it will cost about $130,000 to purchase and install a new electrical vault switch. Other costs are for generator fuel, worker overtime and a new consultant who is assessing the situation.

A contractor was working on a new high-voltage power line two weeks ago when equipment in the underground vault short-circuited. The ensuing power surge shut down electricity to the entire campus and forced a hard shutdown of the state’s data center. The data center hasn’t been fully shut down in more than 20 years.

Steve Valandra, a GA spokesman, said officials are still working together to determine exactly what happened and how to prevent it from happening again.

“It’s bad that this thing happened, and it could have been a huge problem,” Valandra said. “It’s also not so bad that it happened because what we’ve learned is that there are some safeguards in the system that need to be in place.”

The outage occurred on a Sunday afternoon, and most services were up and running by Monday morning. The outage caused the largest problems at the Employment Security Department, which had a delay in processing unemployment claims.

Joanne Todd, a spokeswoman for the Department of Information Services, said it appeared the state’s data center had handled the surge properly. She said generators initially kicked on to maintain the system but that a second surge forced the generators to shut down.

The generators are designed to shut down in that sort of situation to ensure that the surge does not fry all the equipment, Todd said.

“It worked like it was supposed to,” Todd said. “Anytime anything of that magnitude happens, there’s always going to be lessons learned. We’re in the process of evaluating what those lessons learned are.”

The replacement work for the electrical vault switch is not expected for a few months because it must be custom made. That repair will require a weekend power outage.

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