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Facilities readies power, elevator systems for Y2K

MIT's Year 2000 team wants to let the community know about the Institute's preparations for the year 2000 by publishing periodic updates from a variety of areas about their readiness for Y2K. This first article provides information from the Department of Facilities.

The "Y2K bug" refers to the potential for computers and software to crash or make mistakes if they are not prepared to deal with the change to the year 2000. A basic concern of many people is whether power supplies for electricity will be operational when 1999 becomes 2000. And there are basic safety questions like whether elevators will get stuck between floors.

A major power outage in August 1997 in Cambridge provided an unexpected test that showed some problems in MIT systems that will be corrected before the year 2000. Other (planned) tests of on-campus systems have been conducted and will continue.

Basically, there are two sources of power to the campus: MIT's own central utilities plant, which provides electricity to about 80 percent of campus buildings, and Cambridge Electric, which covers the other 20 percent. The Department of Facilities expects that the power grid in New England will be ready for Y2K and will remain operational. If there are problems like blackouts or brownouts, MIT's cogeneration plant can operate independently to supply power to all campus buildings except those on the edges of campus.

The buildings powered by Cambridge Electric and not covered by the cogeneration plant include the following: E28, E32, E42, W11, E56, E60, WW15, N42, N51/52, N57, NE43, NW10, NW12, NW13, NW14, NW15, NW16, NW17, NW20, NW21, NW22, NW30, NW61 and NW62.

Cambridge Electric has two "feeders" that provide power to these buildings, though only one is required. If one feeder fails, then Cambridge Electric must manually switch to the other. If the second feeder fails, then the only power remaining would be the emergency generators or battery units that allow for safe evacuation of the buildings.

This brings up an important point: emergency power on campus is designed to get people safely out of buildings but is not designed for keeping experiments running. Backup generators power only the lights and other essentials for evacuation. Several years ago, areas such as Information Systems and the Center for Cancer Research paid for special backup systems to keep their operations running in the event of power outages. However, these are isolated standby systems that are the exception rather than the rule at MIT.


The Department of Facilities expects that all elevators on campus will be Y2K-compliant in plenty of time. For the newest elevators in places such as the biology buliding (Building 68), Facilities has letters of certification from the manufacturers that the elevators are Y2K-compliant. In addition, even these newest elevators will be checked by TAVA Technologies, which is assessing Y2K compliance campus wide.

Elevators that Facilities refers to as "modified" have been checked both by MIT and by TAVA Technologies. The oldest elevators, which use "relay logic," won't have problems because in this situation, their ignorance is bliss.

The Year 2000 team is interested in hearing questions from the community because this will help to target their communications efforts. They can be reached via e-mail to For more information, consult the team's web site.

This document is a "Year 2000 Readiness Disclosure" as defined in the Year 2000 Information and Readiness Disclosure Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-271, 112 Stat. 2386).

A version of this article appeared in the April 28, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 28).

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