Across the Capitol campus, Architect of the Capitol (AOC) electricians are on constant alert to respond to emergency events and power outages that can disrupt electrical systems at any time. House Office Buildings electricians now have a "cool tool" that allows them to practice their emergency response without disrupting the live systems or even leaving the House Electrical Shop.

The cool tool is a Systems Demonstration Box — affectionately known simply as "The Box." A closet-sized, wooden cabinet on rollers, The Box contains stand-alone, fully operational electrical components on all four of its sides that are the same models, albeit on a smaller scale, as the live systems maintained by House electricians.

Rectangular in shape, the narrow sides of The Box contain a standard electrical panel on one side and an automatic transfer switch (ATS) module on the other side. The wide sides of The Box feature two fire alarm systems on the upper sections, and light bulbs, switches and outlets on the lower section of one side.

The fire alarm systems on The Box match those currently used in the field: one for the Rayburn, Longworth and Ford House Office Buildings, and the part of the Cannon House Office Building not yet renovated; and another, newer model for the system installed in the renewed part of the Cannon Building.

The Box was originally built three years ago as a demonstration device for Take Your Child to Work Day.

"We wanted to create something to show the kids how electrical systems like lighting and fire alarms work," said House Electrician Leader Charles "Buddy" Greenwell III. "We asked the Carpentry Shop to build a large cabinet to house components and this is what they came up with," Greenwell said as he stood before the imposing, cherrywood cabinet that reached his height.

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Greenwell points out the fire alarm control boards; underneath are the light bulbs and electrical switches that children played with during Take Your Child to Work Day.
Greenwell points out the fire alarm control boards; underneath are the light bulbs and electrical switches that children played with during Take Your Child to Work Day.

During Take Your Child to Work Day that year, the children enjoyed an interactive experience with The Box. They took turns switching the light bulbs on and off and then watched as a House electrician held up a can of smoke and sprayed the smoke directly at one of the fire alarms on the other side of The Box.

The alarm shrilled as its strobe light flashed, which, you could say, got the children's attention. It proved a memorable example of what AOC electricians deal with on the job.

During a more recent demonstration of The Box, Greenwell re-created how to activate the fire alarm by picking up a can of smoke and spraying it at the alarm.

It blinkered and blared with a vengeance.

"When a fire alarm goes off," Greenwell said over the deafening peal of the alarm, "first the Capitol Police investigate. If it's a false alarm, they make sure everything is safe, then they'll call us to come out and reset the zone." The zone is the area of a building covered by that particular alarm. Greenwell then turned to the display portion of the system directly under the fire alarms and went through the steps to turn off the alarm and reset the zone.

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Greenwell sprays a can of smoke on one of the fire alarms to set it off.
Greenwell sprays a can of smoke on one of the fire alarms to set it off.

Peace returned to the House Electrical Shop.

Rotating The Box to one side, Greenwell next demonstrated how the ATS module works. Located in electrical rooms throughout the House office buildings, ATS units provide backup generator power in the event of a power outage. When power from the electric company is lost, the ATS is activated and soon switches the power over to the alternate power of the generator. The model on The Box allows electricians to simulate a power outage by "turning off" the regular power to the ATS to activate the switch.

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Greenwell operates the automatic transfer switch.
Greenwell operates the automatic transfer switch.

"It's really nice to be able to show these systems to employees without worrying about doing something wrong," Greenwell said.

Which is how The Box has become a truly cool tool. "We use it to introduce our systems to all new employees," said Greenwell. "We'll also use it to help employees get promoted, by testing their skills and knowledge of components on The Box."

For House Electrician Shane Spalding, helping to install the electrical components on The Box when it was first built in 2017 helped him secure a promotion. "I was fairly new to the AOC at that point, so helping install the electrical panel and the ATS module showed my supervisor that I had the knowledge and skills to get the promotion," Spalding said. "It definitely helped me out."

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