Magnetic Field Trouble in Los Angeles: Equipment Failures

In summary, the magnetic fields coming from the power line could be causing equipment failures in the building including a very sophisticated online battery back up. The best course of action at this point is to persist and try to get the power companies to act on the problem.
  • #1
business man
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I am in real trouble here in Los Angeles.
My computers and phone system are going down intermittently and it is literally crippling my business with 60 full time employees. We have tried everything! The local Dept. of Water and Power might be the problem. My building is within 100ft of a major power line coming into L.A. and I have been told that it is possible that magnetic fields coming from that power line could be responsible for equipment failures, including a very sophisticated online battery back up. Is this possible? And if so, how can I prove it to them so that I can get them to act on it? HELP PLEASE!
 
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  • #2
I'm not sure how technically competent you are so forgive me if I sound like I'm teaching my Grandmother to suck eggs in the following paragraphs:

Large currents flowing in cables, such as power cables create very large magnetic fields around them. This is something which has been established for well over 100 years, and probably a good deal more than that.

Even small currents passing through wires do this. This is how relays work. The current flows through the coil and creates a magnetic field which attracts the contact and closes the switch.

Electric motors also work on this principle. Without electric currents producing magnetic fields most of the things modern technology relies on for it's power simply would not work. It's one of the most fundamental principles of physics.

Bear in mind that it will be the power companies policy to say that it is impossible the first few times to see how persistent you are. Bear in mind they probably get so many cranks ringing them up blaming them for all kinds of stuff they're not responsible for. Your best bet is to just perservere.

So to answer your question directly...

...yes I think it is possible. It might be causing unwanted voltages to occur and currents to flow which are upsetting the way your equipment works. I suppose if your battery back-ups are relying on electronic equipment to turn them on it could be particularly problematic given that electronic equipment uses low currents and voltages and would thus be the most vulnerable to such things.

I must ask though if your equipment is suitably protected? In my days as a panel wirer we wouldn't dream of running sensitive data cables in anything other than screened cable which carriers unwanted electric currents straight to ground. Also anything which was encasing electronics was also earthed to the panel's body which was in turn connected to Earth at the installation location.

Perhaps it is a combination of both factors?

I hope that helps a little bit, but bear in mind I represent the novice end of the spectrum on forums as sophisticated as these and there are others who could give you a much better and more detailed answer :wink:
 
  • #3
Thank you so much for your reply. Any information at this point is helpful. I am happy to know that it is in fact possible for magnetic fields to cause our problems. I will now give you some more info.

We have attempted to increase the grounding of all possible problem areas. The result was a bit disappointing. We actually suffered more events!

Is it possible that there could be current running in the ground? We noticed that some of our conduits had current!

Our T1 telephone line is also suspect because it runs through the entire building and pretty much connects to everything including the computers. Can you recommend any additional shielding for telephone lines? The cost of going fiber optic on a 600ft run from the street to the phone room is prohibitive.

I just heard today that circuit breakers are now tripping on the U.P.S. and the main electrical panel. It was suggested to set up a fuse panel rather than breakers for the computer and phone equipment, and not use the online U.P.S. temporarily because it has a built in circuit protection that keeps tripping.

Any other thoughts or suggestions?
 
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  • #4
Are your business neighbors having the same problems? Did the previous resident in your building before you moved in have the same problems?
 
  • #5
Just a suggestion, but do you have a compass? If you take it just outside your building and it points to the power main instead of pointing North, then there's a good chance that the main is indeed the source of your woes.

Out of curiosity; are the walls of your building cement, wood, or metal?
 
  • #6
Great Question!
The building is only about 5 yrs old and the previous owner says he did not have any problems. I wonder if he is trying to cover his butt though because if he did have problems and did not disclose them in the sale, he has some legal liability issues.

The building is in a newly developed area so there is no history prior to this development. The nearest company is next door to us, separated by a concrete shear wall and drywall partition combination that runs about 100ft front to back.
They are west of our side which is west of the power line so we are closer to the problem.

Unfortunately this company has almost no computers or phone equipment, only the bare minimum, as it is a storage company with one small office. They have reported no problems.

The next closest building is about 500ft from the power lines. They have a full office with phones and computers. They have reported no problems. So far, we have not found anyone in the immediate area that is having the same problems we are suffering.

We went virtually trouble free for our first year or so, but dropped calls started about 4 months ago and got progressively worse to the point were for the last few weeks it has been a nightmare.

I had someone research that power line, and there appears to have been some increase in usage or power fed through it that coincides with our increasing problems.

The power company is not helping us. They keep saying that their tests show power at the street and anything inside of that is our problem.

Thank you for your question.
 
  • #7
The building is 125,000 sf, tilt up, steel reinforced concrete which is partitioned, my company using 80,000sf and the storage company in 45,000sf.
 
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  • #8
I don't know what your business is but you must either have some INCREDIBLY sensitive equipment or you are so close to the transmission wires that you can read the manufacturer off the jacket.
for a field to be strong enough to effect most common computer systems and UPSs (both are usually shield grounded) you would almost have to be able to feel it on your body like a Van De Graf.
I think you would be better testing the quality of the power coming into the building then the fields around it. Crappy power w/ brownouts and spikes that are so famous in the CA powergrid could be doing it, a neighboring building on the same transformer leg could be giving you the shiv with equipment surges.

Just my low tech opinion but I asked my neighbor who is a Domionion Power site engineer and that was his first thought too.
 
  • #9
Just a suggestion, but do you have a compass? If you take it just outside your building and it points to the power main instead of pointing North, then there's a good chance that the main is indeed the source of your woes.

Good suggestion. we tried the compass INSIDE the building awhile back with negative results, I believe.

I just got off the phone with my operations manager and he has arranged for monitoring equipment that will record what we think now might be bursts of strong DC magnetic fields. i think recording is the key here.

We have had a man named Tom Shawnesey working on this off and on commuting from the San Fransisco area. He is a 30yr so called expert in this field and he has never seen anything like it.

The equipment is on site now waiting for him to arrive to set it up today.

Thank you very much for your suggestions.
 
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  • #10
vadslram said:
I don't know what your business is but you must either have some INCREDIBLY sensitive equipment or you are so close to the transmission wires that you can read the manufacturer off the jacket.
for a field to be strong enough to effect most common computer systems and UPSs (both are usually shield grounded) you would almost have to be able to feel it on your body like a Van De Graf.
I think you would be better testing the quality of the power coming into the building then the fields around it. Crappy power w/ brownouts and spikes that are so famous in the CA powergrid could be doing it, a neighboring building on the same transformer leg could be giving you the shiv with equipment surges.

Just my low tech opinion but I asked my neighbor who is a Domionion Power site engineer and that was his first thought too.

How can we PROVE this hypothesis?

The power company has put their monitoring equipment on the main line a few times and claim " no problems ".

Does anyone else think I'm barking up the wrong tree regarding magnetic fields? We have no ultra sensitive equipment, just standard IBM computers and standard phone equipment.

We are very close to a MAIN line that serves 45% of the city of Los Angeles and yes, we could come close to reading something written on the tower, but no sign of any physical discomfort.

Thank you for your input.
 
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  • #11
Could anyone on this topic get a professor of electrical engineering to read this?

I can’t stress enough, the devistation this problem is causing my company. As I said before we have nearly exhausted all avenues and have some pretty smart guys scratching their heads on this.

Is there any way I could contact this dominion power site engineer directly? It sounds like he could help me as well.
 
  • #12
Buy a spool of wire and hook a meter to the two ends. If there is a large magnetic field won't it generate a current through the wire?? could be fun to watch and you never know maybe you get free power to send back to the company:eek:
have YOU put a recorder on the line to see it's condition? the power company isn't going to admit it's bad because if they do they are also admitting to fault in your equipment loss..and a financial liability.

I'll send him (my neighbor) this link and let him decide.

Why I'm so against the theory is from watching the area around our LORAN transmitting towers, they change the growth pattern of the fields around them yet our laptops work fine at the base (but we can't spend more then 15 min on field while they are activeby regs)
 
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  • #13
vadslram said:
Buy a spool of wire and hook a meter to the two ends. If there is a large magnetic field won't it generate a current through the wire?? could be fun to watch and you never know maybe you get free power to send back to the company:eek:
have YOU put a recorder on the line to see it's condition? the power company isn't going to admit it's bad because if they do they are also admitting to fault in your equipment loss..and a financial liability.

I'll send him (my neighbor) this link and let him decide.

Why I'm so against the theory is from watching the area around our LORAN transmitting towers, they change the growth pattern of the fields around them yet our laptops work fine at the base (but we can't spend more then 15 min on field while they are activeby regs)

The spool and wire test may be what they are doing today with more sophisticated measuring and recording devices.

Can you suggest the type of monitoring and recording device we could use at the street? Would this device be illegal? Would we have to disconnect three 480v hot lines to attach it? Don't you think their liability would be even greater if there was some conspiracy to try to hide these problems from us?

I am just a business man with a little bit of logic and common sense, so I don't really know what your LORAN towers are, but if they generate large magnetic fields and you can't stay on for more than 15min. that may be a good argument for the m.f. theory.

Thanks for sticking with me here.
 
  • #14
This is way outside of my area, so I'm just tossing an idea. If no one else is having the difficulty, is it possible that there's an underground conductor such as a steel culvert that might be picking up the field right under the line and transmitting it to your location? I don't even know for sure if that's physically possible.
 
  • #15
I forgot to mention.

We have also tried 2 different generators, one permanent, on site, and one portable trailer mounted. Amazingly, even THAT has not stopped these events from happening, and these were wired to a very expensive online battery back up that we rented.

Early on, we tried to meter what was happening inside our server and phone room and we saw voltage drops on the meters monitor during these events. Later we found out that the meters were being effected by the event which rendered them totally useless.

Our expert had to bring in some heavy low tech old metering devices to get any decent info, I'm not sure if they were any help.

We have done so much that it is hard to remember everything in one post.
 
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  • #16
Danger said:
This is way outside of my area, so I'm just tossing an idea. If no one else is having the difficulty, is it possible that there's an underground conductor such as a steel culvert that might be picking up the field right under the line and transmitting it to your location? I don't even know for sure if that's physically possible.

Good question!

Yes, there is a culvert BETWEEN our building and the power line, about half the distance but parallel to the lines and not crossing the lines or our building. It is partially above ground concrete and transitions underground as it gets closer to the street.

So I don't think that would be an issue.

Thanks for your input
 
  • #17
You're probably right about it not being an issue, particularly since it's concrete, but... does it happen to contain rebar?
 
  • #18
Danger said:
You're probably right about it not being an issue, particularly since it's concrete, but... does it happen to contain rebar?

Since the culvert is relatively new, it might have a small amount of rebar in it.
 
  • #19
Again, since I have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about, this is probably wrong. I'm just wondering if any such rebar might, because of its pattern within the culvert, be acting as an antenna to direct the field your way.
Somebody else better get back into this, 'cause I'm way over my head.

Since nothing else seems to be going on right now, I'm going to bugger off and play a game or two. I'll check back in a bit.
 
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  • #20
I would try shielding the computers, perhaps turn your entire office into a big faraday cage?

You could try shielding just one computer to see what happens first, and go from there perhaps... Are your computers randomly restarting, or is something else happening? Are your UPS power supplies voltage regulators as well? Have you tried monitoring what the power looks like on your wall outlets, looking for spikes or irregularities?

You might consider contacting a local university to see if any professors would be interested in investigating, perhaps for a nominal fee.

Here's some reading for you, a good experiment might be to try shielding a single computer and UPS, to see if you are able to shield it from any problems...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electromagnetic_shielding
 
  • #21
Mech_Engineer said:
I would try shielding the computers, perhaps turn your entire office into a big faraday cage?


*****We might have to turn the entire 125,000sf buiding into a faraday cage then, because now the breakers on our main service panel are tripping even with near zero load, which is what we saw when we came in this morning after being on isolated generator power all night with virtually nothing going on anywhere in the area!


You could try shielding just one computer to see what happens first, and go from there perhaps... Are your computers randomly restarting, or is something else happening? Are your UPS power supplies voltage regulators as well? Have you tried monitoring what the power looks like on your wall outlets, looking for spikes or irregularities?


*****The phone system will usually cycle off and back on by itself during an event but not the computers now because the UPS trips and then has to be reset.
The power supply (UPS), from my limited understanding, is full time regulated battery power which is continuosly charged on the front end by line power from the street, which could fluctuate wildly and not effect the power quality on our side of the battery.

*****As I said earlier, we attempted to meter power within the building but the events rendered the high tech meters useless, and the low tech meters we used, I can't remember what we read, but I have a feeling that because the problem is intermitant and the meter is low tech, it probably did not record anything or have the capability of recording.


You might consider contacting a local university to see if any professors would be interested in investigating, perhaps for a nominal fee.


*****That's a great idea, but I'm afraid that they might not take me seriously without an introduction of some kind. They probably get all kinds of crackpots taking up their time.


Here's some reading for you, a good experiment might be to try shielding a single computer and UPS, to see if you are able to shield it from any problems...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electromagnetic_shielding

You will see my comments posted above following each of your comments.

I was almost ready to report it to the local press and maybe get a camera crew to follow me into the DWP but then I thought, what would my customers and empoyees think? It might scare them!

Thanks for your comments, I will pass them on.
 
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  • #22
Anyone know which Los Angeles area University would have a department that might specialize in this field? Any contact names and email or phone #s?
 
  • #23
Oops, sorry about the reposting... I didn't look through the thread thouroughly enough. I would say Faraday cages around vital equipment sounds like a feasible solution, if a little expensive and tedious.

I do like the idea of building yourself a transformer to get some energy from the line electromagnetically, just to stick it to the man... Just Kidding :devil:
 
  • #24
I wonder, is the power company really liable for a situation such as this? I'm assume the power lines were there before the building... Shouldn't the builder of the building be the one accountable for building so close to a major power transmission line? I don't really see how the power company can do anything for you more than say "tell L.A. to use less electricity," or give you some shielding advice.
 
  • #25
Mech_Engineer said:
Oops, sorry about the reposting... I didn't look through the thread thouroughly enough. I would say Faraday cages around vital equipment sounds like a feasible solution, if a little expensive and tedious.

I do like the idea of building yourself a transformer to get some energy from the line electromagnetically, just to stick it to the man... Just Kidding :devil:

No problem M.E.

I just suggested the faraday cage to my expert and he agreed that it might work. We now have a contractor wiring from our generator, bypassing electrical service breakers to a FUSED disconnect, to a line conditioner and u.p.s. that we will jury rig inside a faraday cage, then power our phone system from this source to see if it will stay up.

If this works, it will be somewhat of a breakthrough and comfirming the EMF theory.
 
  • #26
Mech_Engineer said:
I wonder, is the power company really liable for a situation such as this? I'm assume the power lines were there before the building... Shouldn't the builder of the building be the one accountable for building so close to a major power transmission line? I don't really see how the power company can do anything for you more than say "tell L.A. to use less electricity," or give you some shielding advice.

You may be right, but for now i would like to keep the thread moving in the direction of possible solutions first.

Any other comments or suggestions?
 
  • #27
When you said you got more issues from increasing your Earth bonding it quite alarmed me. That is most unusual.

Just one point which I have to raise. In the UK when you combine your Neutral with your Earth on the supplier's side it is called a T-N-C-S system. It basically means there's no supplier earth, and all the equipment in your property bonded to earth, conducts current back to your distribution board and then down through the supplier's neutral in the event of an Earth fault.

If a building is using this method then what can happen is that if you lose your connection to your supplier's neutral or it becomes a bit poor then suddenly you can start getting supply voltage present on all the areas in your building which have been bonded. It happened to a local firm and all of a sudden they were getting shocks of the sink, hand rails and all kinds. It's one possiblity.

Here's another possibility. I'm not sure if you are aware but computers dump current to Earth constantly. This is why a socket ring or radial circuit expecting to have computers plugged into it must have a larger diameter Earth than ordinary equipment. Is it possible that you have some kind of appliance such as a computer or just something which has an Earth fault which is dumping lots of current to earth? This would also account for lots of nuisance tripping at your distribution board which I think you mentioned earlier.

I am only really an electrical engineering novice, but I am a fully qualified and experienced domestic electrician. It's about 11:30pm here and I was going to go to bed but I'm happy to stay up late if you want me to hang on and try and help you some more? Things sound pretty bad your end :rolleyes:

**Edit** Whilst your contractor is there get him to check your buildings earthing arrangement for any irregularities. It shouldn't take too long.
 
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  • #28
Here's another thought. Do you notice it being worse on anyone particular floor/area than another?

**Edit**

One thing that would prove if it was an external magnetic influence for sure would be to kill all power to your building by isolating it at your distribution board. Then measure the metallic areas you said were having trouble before and see if any current is flowing through them.

If not, then it's an internal wiring/appliance error with your property of some kind, and I would guess a lot easier to locate once you knew exactly what you were dealing with.

Furthermore I need a little clarification. What is a U.P.S.? Is it what we in the UK call an RCD? A device like a breaker which detects current differences between phase and neutral and shuts the circuit down if one exists?

If that's so then you can use them to see if your live/phase (whatever you want to call it) is losing current somewhere it shouldn't be (like to Earth for example).
 
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  • #29
business man said:
We went virtually trouble free for our first year or so, but dropped calls started about 4 months ago and got progressively worse to the point were for the last few weeks it has been a nightmare.
Has anyone gone around and tightened the screws in the power panel and ground busses.
One of the weirdest problems I ran into was water had gotten into the meter box and partially dissolved the buss bars, going from the meter to the main circuit breaker, until they cracked.
Despite the crack everything still worked, well most of the time.
 
  • #30
Adder_Noir said:
When you said you got more issues from increasing your Earth bonding it quite alarmed me. That is most unusual.

Just one point which I have to raise. In the UK when you combine your Neutral with your Earth on the supplier's side it is called a T-N-C-S system. It basically means there's no supplier earth, and all the equipment in your property bonded to earth, conducts current back to your distribution board and then down through the supplier's neutral in the event of an Earth fault.

If a building is using this method then what can happen is that if you lose your connection to your supplier's neutral or it becomes a bit poor then suddenly you can start getting supply voltage present on all the areas in your building which have been bonded. It happened to a local firm and all of a sudden they were getting shocks of the sink, hand rails and all kinds. It's one possiblity.

Here's another possibility. I'm not sure if you are aware but computers dump current to Earth constantly. This is why a socket ring or radial circuit expecting to have computers plugged into it must have a larger diameter Earth than ordinary equipment. Is it possible that you have some kind of appliance such as a computer or just something which has an Earth fault which is dumping lots of current to earth? This would also account for lots of nuisance tripping at your distribution board which I think you mentioned earlier.

I am only really an electrical engineering novice, but I am a fully qualified and experienced domestic electrician. It's about 11:30pm here and I was going to go to bed but I'm happy to stay up late if you want me to hang on and try and help you some more? Things sound pretty bad your end :rolleyes:

**Edit** Whilst your contractor is there get him to check your buildings earthing arrangement for any irregularities. It shouldn't take too long.

I have a bit more of a problem. Tom, the expert has been battling a personal crisis. His Mom is in the hospital going in for major surgery. The last time I tried to contact him he was on the way to the hospital and couldn't talk, so it may be awhile before i can answer your questions.

His Mom just happens to live in L.A. and he has been giving us as much time as he possibly can considering the emotional drain he must be going through right now.

These are all good questions and should certainly be considered in our shotgun approach to dealing with this.

I don't want to keep you up, I might need you fresh in the morning:wink:

Thanks so much for your concern.
 
  • #31
I'll hang on for a bit anyway. Trailer Park Boys is about to start on para comedy and I'm on a re-wire in the morning so will be out for the day :wink:
 
  • #32
Adder_Noir said:
Here's another thought. Do you notice it being worse on anyone particular floor/area than another?

Hard to say, because it is getting progressively worse. We did however move our server room (computers) to the bottom floor of a two story building, but left the phone equipment upstairs. The new server room has two walls of concrete and at a lower level we felt it would be less susceptible to RF signals. There is a freeway running across the front of the building 400 to 500ft away and we initialy thought that outlaw truckers were transmitting with illegal equipment causing our problems. We pretty much ruled this out now, but the stability DID improve for some reason for about a week.

**Edit**

One thing that would prove if it was an external magnetic influence for sure would be to kill all power to your building by isolating it at your distribution board. Then measure the metallic areas you said were having trouble before and see if any current is flowing through them.

This sounds promising. Then i suppose we could start turning things on until we find the problem appliance, right?

If not, then it's an internal wiring/appliance error with your property of some kind, and I would guess a lot easier to locate once you knew exactly what you were dealing with.

Furthermore I need a little clarification. What is a U.P.S.? Is it what we in the UK call an RCD? A device like a breaker which detects current differences between phase and neutral and shuts the circuit down if one exists?

Uninteruptable Power Supply or battery backup

If that's so then you can use them to see if your live/phase (whatever you want to call it) is losing current somewhere it shouldn't be (like to Earth for example).[/
QUOTE]

Sounds logical as well, I will suggest it.

Thank you for your comments.
 
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  • #33
I forgot something else. while trying to find places in the building that were less susceptable, we used what we now call Canary's. They are small inexpensive U.P.S.'s that are not considered "online" because they have a very slight delay when they switch from line power to battery power. We found these to be more sensitive to events than some of our other equipment, so we place them all around the building to see which ones chirp. They have little alarms in them. These tests were inconclusive because the good and bad areas tend to jump around and again the problems are escalating in general.
 
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  • #34
What you said about testing each and every appliance until you find the potentially guilty one is exactly right. Most of the time that's how we end up sourcing electrical faults, by process of elimination.

It really is important for you to find out if you're still getting currents flowing through conductors when your building is isolated. This is a must. Call an electrician out as soon as is realistically possible and see if he can tell you if these disturbances are still present when isolated.

Do you have any neighbours nearby who might be using high current appliances? One further possiblity is that a local business or domestic property or something is feeding their return path through an Earth rather than neutral which runs into your property. Again it's just another possibility. The more suggestions you have ready when you've got a qualified person there the better :wink:
 
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  • #35
Just thought of something else:

Our T1 phone line, as I said before, is about a 5 to 600ft run of cat7 cable, which is from my understanding unsheilded.

My computer wiz decided he would try to find out if that had anything to do with his relatively slow internet connection ( A T1 should be lightning fast) so he hooks up a computer close to the incoming line at the terminal blocks and he says the thing flys over there.

Could EMF's be slowing down data on an unshielded cable?
 
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