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Bad "Buss Duct" Causes Week-long Closure of 5,000 Employee Federal Complex 124

Posted by timothy
from the something-to-be-indignant-about dept.
McGruber (1417641) writes In Atlanta, an electrical problem in a "Buss Duct" has caused the Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center to be closed for at least a week. 5,000 federal employees work at the center. While many might view this as another example of The Infrastructure Crisis in the USA, it might actually be another example of mismanagement at the complex's landlord, the General Service Administration (GSA). Probably no one wants to go to work in an Atlanta July without a working A/C.
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Bad "Buss Duct" Causes Week-long Closure of 5,000 Employee Federal Complex

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  • But then, that'd be admitting that privatization isn't a perfect and wonderful cure for all that ails us.

    • You're right - advocates of privitization have always claimed that no private person will ever screw up. Wait, no. So, better to hire somebody who cannot be fired ... because they'll never screw up? Are you sure this story isn't proving the opposite of what you think if does?

      • You're right - advocates of privitization have always claimed that no private person will ever screw up. Wait, no. So, better to hire somebody who cannot be fired ... because they'll never screw up? Are you sure this story isn't proving the opposite of what you think if does?

        How about just a reporter who knows what a "bus" (sic) is?

  • Earthshaking (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Saturday July 26, 2014 @04:41PM (#47539909)

    An electrical problem effects power to a signle building, this is news? This has nothing to do with "failing infrastructure" like old bridges, highway maintenance, or such. It's an electrical problem in a single building.

    • Re:Earthshaking (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Z00L00K (682162) on Saturday July 26, 2014 @04:44PM (#47539921) Homepage

      This is only newsworthy because it was a big building with a single point of failure.

      What we all can learn is to avoid single.points of failure in large systems.

      • what's a buss duct?
        • Re:Earthshaking (Score:5, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 26, 2014 @05:05PM (#47539989)

          A large metal grid used to transmit lots of power within a building. It is a raceway for bus bars [wikipedia.org]. They help dissipate more heat than using cables and can be tied onto at many points. This isn't a sign of a larger failing - it's a critical part of the building's systems that needed repair. It's not easy to repair while live.

          We had a small fire when ours (in a NYC skyscraper) was accidentally shorted. It shut our building down for a couple of days as well (as the bus carried most of the larger loads like HVAC and elevators). We did still have lights and such.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by WillRobinson (159226)

            Obviously they are either incompetent or not willing to pay for proper maintenance. These switch centers should be inspected yearly by someone using heat measuring video, this finds any hot spots which are usually caused by bolts getting loose over time from contraction or weakening from heat. I can not think of a single plant that I have worked in that does not do this. The downtime cost way outstrips the expense of doing it.

            • by Anonymous Coward

              The load should also be approximately 50% of capacity to prevent moisture build up. I have seen a contractor refuse to sign off on an installation designed by a consulting engineer because of the maintenance and operating issues. A buss duct is usually connected at the secondary of the transformer before any fusing or breaker so if a fault develops it will at least be the primary fuse that interrupts the current. I've seen the small chunks of copper that are typically the result of such failures.

          • by plover (150551)

            When the Chicago loop flooded in 1991, the Marshall Field's State Street store was impacted. Being the headquarters for the Marshall Field's chain, they had their data and networking centers on the tenth floor. Their network topology was a hub and spoke affair, and the State Street store was the hub. The operators continued working in the building the entire duration of the flood. They had to wade through water on the ground floor to reach the stairs to climb the 10 stories to work. The electrical bus

            • Re:Earthshaking (Score:4, Interesting)

              by TWX (665546) on Sunday July 27, 2014 @04:04AM (#47541749)

              The fiber optic cables carrying the data had no problems being immersed

              For the immediate emergency, no, they didn't.

              Long-term, fiber is susceptible to water damage. I had a site that needed fiber replaced because the Christy vault was placed too low in the ground and got inundated with irrigation water. The fiber didn't even splice in the vault; it was just a pull-point where the conduit stubbed up into the vault and a new conduit dropped back down, but the conduits filled up and the fiber degraded fairly quickly despite being gel-filled OSP. For awhile we kept testing and moving to different strands as the ones we were on failed, but it didn't take long before it had to be replaced. Fortunately the contractor was able to eliminate that particular vault entirely, splicing the conduits together after getting the moisture out, and we haven't had a problem since.

              • by plover (150551)

                Very interesting! I'll check with one of the old-timers to see if they remember if there were a lot of fiber failures after the flood. I'm wondering if they just blanked replaced everything afterwards to avoid the future maintenance problems.

                Thanks!

        • by Deadstick (535032)

          A misspelling of bus duct. You should be able to take it from here.

        • by dywolf (2673597)

          they meant "bus". as in electrical bus. the main line running into the building.

        • by xfade551 (2627499)
          Google an image search for "siemens sentron busway" (busway is just Siemens' lingo for "buss duct", but "busway" can refer to other sorts of devices, too). There are other manufacturers, but that's just the first model name I remember.
      • by sstamps (39313)

        Certainly, that's why every system in every building needs to have multiple service entry points, multiple redundant electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems, including at least two independent circuits for every load, including desk lamps!

        Oh, wait, that's needlessly overbuilt.

        Redundancy should only be necessary when and where it makes sense. I don't think this is one of those cases.

        • Redundancy should only be necessary when and where it makes sense. I don't think this is one of those cases.

          Though I am a bit surprised that it would take a week to get and install replacement parts...

          • by OzPeter (195038)

            Redundancy should only be necessary when and where it makes sense. I don't think this is one of those cases.

            Though I am a bit surprised that it would take a week to get and install replacement parts...

            From someone posting the link below and reading TFA, there has been no indications to what the actual problem was.

            But given that it effected the whole building in order to enact a repair it might have taken a bunch of upstream switching of large capacity power systems. Co-ordinating, doing arc-flash assessment, safety plans, organizing labor and proper tools etc could easily take a couple of days in itself. Let alone performing the work, doing proper testing and then reversing all of the up stream switchi

            • by Anonymous Coward

              In addition, large warehouses full of spare parts scattered around the country are rare these days. I went into a large national electrical parts distributor recently to order a fairly common part in San Francisco; One instance of the part had to be shipped to San Francisco from Atlanta before I could make my customer's system functional. I was lucky, sometimes you have to wait for the part to be fabricated and shipped.

          • Re:Earthshaking (Score:4, Informative)

            by thegarbz (1787294) on Saturday July 26, 2014 @06:57PM (#47540415)

            Bus ducts are not off the shelf devices, they are normally custom made for the installation. Installation is also quite complex and slow but all these negatives come with really great benefit of the things being essentially maintenance free.

            Which makes me wonder how they had a fault to begin with.

        • by creimer (824291)

          Redundancy should only be necessary when and where it makes sense.

          Paperwork in triplicate is the only thing that counts in government.

        • by Ellis D. Tripp (755736) on Saturday July 26, 2014 @07:34PM (#47540521) Homepage

          into the same structure per the National Electrical Code. Only exception is for different voltages, etc.

          Every building has some electrical switchgear that constitutes a "single point of failure", and it is mandated to do so by code. Simplifies cutting off power by first responders in an emergency, etc.

          Buss duct is generally not stocked by local distributors, and may have been custom made to order (angle/offsets/termination sections anyway) so depending on what exactly burned up, they could be a while sourcing replacement parts.

          • I work in the data center industry, but not directly with the electrical systems. However I have been in data centers with feeders from two different substations, full A+B systems throughout, and multiple layers of automatic transfer switches. Oh, and generators of course.

            Having been in a dozen of these and sat in the design meetings there must be a way to square multiple service entrances, full redundancy and the NEC.

          • by rgmoore (133276)

            There are other cases when you can have multiple service entrances beyond different voltages. A building may have more than one by special permission if it has multiple tenants and no common areas where a common service could be located, or if it's too big to be practically served by a single service. And a building can always be served by multiple services if the electrical demands are larger than the utility can provide with a single service. A quick look says that multiple services are always allowed

        • you have multiple electric entrance points, you have circulating currents among the grounds. every neutral/ground has to be bonded to the capacity of ALL the building current sourcing to prevent this. last one I visited with a camera, a paint store almost burned down. last one I visited on a data equipment field trip, the staff electrician almost got killed with a hand on one building wall and a hand on the next building's wall.

          requires very careful engineering. you're better off to have a standby gener

      • by rubycodez (864176)

        no, there is no reason to waste the money and space to have multiple redundant busways in a typical office building, a proper single one will last more decades than you will.

      • by dywolf (2673597)

        you dont run multiple electrical busses into a building for the same circuit, especially in a large building.
        there may be multiple busses, but they each supply power to a seperate system.

    • by McGruber (1417641)

      It's an electrical problem in a single building.

      Actually, the complex is four separate builidings connected in a U-shape; the tallest is 24 stories. The complex has its own entry on skyscraperpage.com [skyscraperpage.com] and is also described in this 6-page PDF by Trane, the air-conditioning company. [ornl.gov] That PDF includes this description of the buildings in the complex and how it is all designed for 24/7 operation:

      The facility, named for the former U.S. Senator from Georgia, is one the largest federal office buildings on the East Coast. It encompasses 1.87 million square feet of space. The structure straddles a busy downtown street. The building is also located atop an underground train tunnel of the Atlanta transit system, MARTA. The building units include the remodeled 1924 department store, Rich's, which was a downtown Atlanta landmark and an Atlanta institution.

      Now this renovated six-story building and its beloved clock are a visual cornerstone for the center. Other elements are a 10-story mid-rise section, an eight-story bridge, six stories over Forsyth Street and a 24-story high-rise tower. Adjacent to the building is a 10-story parking garage. Construction of the building was a joint urban redevelopment enterprise of the City of Atlanta and the Federal Government. The design architect for the facility was the California firm of Kohn, Peterson, Fox and Associates. Newcomb & Boyd, a large Atlanta firm, was chosen as the project engineer.

      Designed For 24-Hour Operation Southeastern Facility Management, Inc., is contracted by GSA to operate this facility. The system was designed for 24-hour seven days a week operation to accommodate the mission of the various agencies housed in the facility. One or more of the 1,310-ton chillers were to operate, depending on the building load, between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. After 6:00 p.m., the 400-ton chiller was to carry all computer rooms and miscellaneous building loads. As a consequence, the facility designers and engineers needed to plan for continuous occupancy. Atlanta has significant cooling loads for much of the year and high humidity as well. The goal of the HVAC system design was to assure complete comfort in the building around the clock, year-round. To achieve this, significant emphasis was placed on humidity control with a central chilled water plant, air handlers for each area and a zone- controlled VAV air delivery system. Building designers also recognized that an important part of the office environment is acoustic performance. For this reason, rigorous sound level standards were set for occupied areas throughout the facility. The air conditioning system efficiency was extremely important due to the 24/7 operation.

  • Kinda of a big deal (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    If you don't know, buss duct is a power distribution component. It generally carries at least 1000 amps, sometimes much more depending on size. So... Yeah. Basically no power in probably half the building.

  • What? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Saturday July 26, 2014 @04:50PM (#47539941)

    For those who are wondering, a "buss duct" is a duct that contains "busbars", which are generally large flat copper bars that conduct substantial current.

    From the Wikipedia...

    The cross-sectional size of the busbar determines the maximum amount of current that can be safely carried. Busbars can have a cross-sectional area of as little as 10 mm2 but electrical substations may use metal pipes of 50 mm in diameter or more as busbars. An aluminium smelter will have very large busbars used to carry tens of thousands of amperes to the electrochemical cells that produce aluminium from molten salts.

    • by thegarbz (1787294)

      For those who are wondering what a "Buss Duct" is should be wondering why it is:
      a) Misspelt, since when does bus have 2 s' in it.
      b) Surrounded by quotation marks.
      Why is it that people "quote" anything "they" do not "understand"? Or maybe its a new trend of placing "quotation marks" around all nouns?

  • by msauve (701917)
    "Probably no one wants to go to work in an Atlanta July without a working A/C."

    If the settlers were such wimps, Atlanta wouldn't be a city.
    • by jklovanc (1603149)

      Those settlers were not required to sit still inside during the hottest part of the day.

      • by msauve (701917)
        They needed to do physical work to survive, they didn't have the luxury of sitting still.
        • by jklovanc (1603149)

          Which during the hot months that did in the mornings and evenings and not a 9-5 schedule so they can coordinate with the rest of the country.

          "Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun"

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I think that most of the early settlers weren't exactly going there for the tropical weather and field entomology experience.

    • If the settlers were such wimps, Atlanta wouldn't be a city.

      Sure it would be. They'd just send their H1B guests from Africa to do the dangerous work.

  • by Known Nutter (988758) on Saturday July 26, 2014 @05:06PM (#47539991)

    A fool's drivel repeated often enough will some day end up in the lexicon, especially in the moden age of instant mass communications, but that does not make it correct.

    "Buss" is not a word, but because there was an electrical manufacturing company called "Bussman" that makes fuses, and people would often shorten it to "Buss Fuses", other illiterates have created a spurious spelling that uses "buss" instead of "bus". It's still incorrect however, in spite of the illiterates repeating it on the internet.

    This holds true within the electrical trade, as many old-timers frequently write (not type!) "buss" -- I often see it on equipment labels, one-line drawings, etc.

    • A fool's drivel repeated often enough will some day end up in the lexicon, especially in the moden age of instant mass communications, but that does not make it correct.

      That's right, real words come fully formed from a magical oracle. How silly of me...

      • by Known Nutter (988758) on Saturday July 26, 2014 @05:39PM (#47540125)

        You can be pedantic, but come on...I get it, language evolves, but a tech website like slashdot should get the tech vernacular correct, don't you think?

        After all, "bus" is not foreign term to "nerds" now, is it? For example, the same term that describes "front side bus" also describes an electrical bus duct.

        • by sjames (1099)

          Can you call it truly wrong when the 'old timers' in the trade do the same?

          The front side bus duck comes in handy when the driver gets hurt and misses work.

      • by thegarbz (1787294)

        Ya. Y would neone get upset over this.

    • by OzPeter (195038)

      A fool's drivel repeated often enough will some day end up in the lexicon, especially in the moden age of instant mass communications, but that does not make it correct.

      "Buss" is not a word, but because there was an electrical manufacturing company called "Bussman" that makes fuses, and people would often shorten it to "Buss Fuses", other illiterates have created a spurious spelling that uses "buss" instead of "bus". It's still incorrect however, in spite of the illiterates repeating it on the internet.

      This holds true within the electrical trade, as many old-timers frequently write (not type!) "buss" -- I often see it on equipment labels, one-line drawings, etc.

      Thats funny, because in my EE degree back 30 years, and in another country, we learnt that buss was the term used for a collection of signals being routed in a signal direction. From my point of view, *your* definition as to the origin of buss is apocryphal.

    • A fool's drivel repeated often enough will some day end up in the lexicon, especially in the moden age of instant mass communications, but that does not make it correct.

      If it is used often enough it DOES make it correct, particularly when it is used that way within a trade. That is how languages are formed in the real world. Not from ivory tower dictates of grammar nazis like yourself.

      "Buss" is not a word

      Except that it is. It means Kiss according to Webster. It is also a fairly common [wikipedia.org] shortened spelling of a Busbar. Bus is a contraction of the latin word "omnibus", meaning "for all".

      This holds true within the electrical trade, as many old-timers frequently write (not type!) "buss" -- I often see it on equipment labels, one-line drawings, etc.,

      Then you have contradicted your own argument and it is de-facto correct if it is used that way commonly wit

    • A fool's drivel repeated often enough will some day end up in the lexicon, especially in the moden age of instant mass communications, but that does not make it correct.

      Uh, actually it kinda does.

      It's why we now call that tasty fruit an orange, and not a norange, for example.

      • Yes, but that happened in Mediaeval French when une norenge got misspelt as une orenge, well before the word passed into English (and similarly into Dutch, as oranje). By comparison, Spanish and Hungarian have naranja and narancs, respectively.

        • Yes, but that happened in Mediaeval French when une norenge got misspelt as une orenge, well before the word passed into English...

          Which is neither here nor there.

          "Buss" is a word that has passed into our vocabulary in modern times, an era no less legitimate for creating new words than any other.

    • by NoMaster (142776)

      Use of the word "buss" to refer to electrical or mechanical power distribution predates the Bussmann company by a good 30 years or more (it's used in engineering documents and handbooks from the 1880s). It probably derives from the Germanic / northern European / Scots gaelic of the time, since they were big engineering regions.

      But don't let that stop your misplaced outrage. Why not turn it to the common mispronunciation of "router" (i.e." rowt-er") instead? "Rout" (pronounced "rowt") means " to turn aside;

    • "Buss" is not a word

      It is actually, meaning "kiss", but a "kiss duct failure" sounds more like supposed plot of "the human centipede" than an engineering problem in Atlanta.

  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday July 26, 2014 @05:10PM (#47540017) Homepage

    That building complex was overhauled in 1997 by Inglett & Stubbs electrical contractors, [inglett-stubbs.com] who did $14 million of electrical work. This failure may or may not be their fault, but it's not because of neglected infrastructure.

  • by jklovanc (1603149) on Saturday July 26, 2014 @05:15PM (#47540037)

    Here is a link to a story about the outage. [ajc.com]

    Therefore, the chiller plant and a large portion of the building’s electrical grid were rendered inoperable

    It is also difficult to work without lights, computers, routers, PBX, etc.

    • "I can't get my computer to turn on."
      "Can you make sure it's plugged in?"
      "I'll try but it's really dark."
      "Do you have a flashlight?"
      "No. I've been trying to find one ever since the power went out."

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I work for a financial institution who's "geek campus" was knocked out by a very similar failure. The AC buss feeding the 4th-8th floors exploded; the site of the explosion was in the lower level network test lab. So not only knocked out the power of the building, but splattered burnt debris, molten metal, and a lot of smoke throughout a mini data center, many of whose more expensive fans (servers, routers, and a demo analytics engine) ran for about 30 minutes thanks to the uninterruptible power supply.

  • by Horshu (2754893) on Saturday July 26, 2014 @06:17PM (#47540275)
    I worked for a company in the 2009 time frame where the AC went out regularly in the summer months in Houston. I came in after a stay in the hospital to an office that was 95 degrees. July anywhere on the Gulf Coast can be bad, but in August/September, it's even worse.
    • by dywolf (2673597)

      you had AC?
      i worked in a warehouse one summer down there...long miserable days with no AC in a metal building.
      Fun.

  • Not too surprising. I worked in a building in Atlanta where the UPS's in the computer room kept tripping for no apparent reason and kept reporting wiring faults. We had half a dozen electrical inspectors and electricians in to try to find out why and none could. I brought in a volt meter from home and checked the outlets. The "ground" from the sub-panel in the room was at +50 volts relative to the return neutral side of the line. The sub-panel had been connected to a transformer in the main electrical r
  • by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Saturday July 26, 2014 @07:25PM (#47540503)
    Many of the effected people are not government employees, they are hourly contractors doing clerical and office work. They either have to take vacation or go without pay, and not getting paid for a week when you are making maybe $15/hour is not pleasant. Some can work from home but since the outage was unexpected they may not have their work laptop at home. How do I know this? I have a friend who works there.
    • by plover (150551)

      Perhaps you don't understand how governments and large corporations structure themselves in order to save money: they use contractors instead of employees for exactly that reason.

      Regardless of the disaster scenario, employee/employer rules stipulate they have to pay their employees during the time when they're normally expected to work, even if they can get no productive work from them. If they have extended downtime due to fire, construction, etc., They would have to lay off the unused workers, which mea

      • Perhaps you don't understand how governments and large corporations structure themselves in order to save money: they use contractors instead of employees for exactly that reason.

        Regardless of the disaster scenario, employee/employer rules stipulate they have to pay their employees during the time when they're normally expected to work, even if they can get no productive work from them. If they have extended downtime due to fire, construction, etc., They would have to lay off the unused workers, which means paying unemployment benefits. Contracts, on the other hand, can be written so they can be paused or terminated at will. It's up to the contracting firm to manage the pay when they're "sitting on the bench", and most of those contracts provide no compensation for periods of non-work.

        On the flip side, when you are hired as a contractor, you explicitly sign up for those risks. Even though it may look like a regular job, it isn't. It's a contract.

        The human side of the equation was carefully measured and surgically extracted back when the government decided to use contractors instead of employees. Employees cost too much.

        Oh, I realize that quite well. Government employees are required to take leave as well in many such situations unless they can work from home. The contractors are actually hourly employees of a company that then contracts with the government. Since government contracts, on a T&E basis, cannot pay for time not worked no matter the reason the contractor gets no money and doesn't pay their employees (who are actually employees not contractors so despite your employer / employee assertion there is no requir

  • by Tablizer (95088)

    Problem is so bad that even duct tape can't fix it.

  • This actually is an infrastructure aging problem. And the incidence of buss duct failure has been increasing in older buildings. Many bus ducts installed in industrial and commercial facilities are immediately downstream of the transformers, but upstream of the main overcurrent device. Thus, transformer protection devices often inadequately protect the buss conductor from being fried by a short. I've seen them vaporized.

    Such shorts occur due to water infiltration, corrosion, and most importantly in the s
  • It's been my experience with A/C outages that people function better than desktop PCs, many of which apparently assume no more than 80F ambient temperature.

You know that feeling when you're leaning back on a stool and it starts to tip over? Well, that's how I feel all the time. -- Steven Wright

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