Observing the Great Blackout of 2003

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Photo:  The Atlantic, August 13, 2018

August 14, 2019 marks the 16th anniversary of the Northeastern Blackout of 2003. On that day, over 50 million people in the Northeastern United States and in parts of the Midwest and Canada found themselves without any electric power. Fears of another 9/11 immediately surfaced, especially in New York City.  However, the culprits were over-loaded power lines that brushed against some overgrown trees on northern Ohio.

Alarm software failed to prompt human controllers into action, power was not re-routed among affected regions, resulting in a massive blackout that for some residents lasted three days.

Although sadly there were some deaths and injuries attributed to the blackout, thankfully residents met the challenge with civility and good will, thus avoiding greater harm to people and property.

Why Should We Remember the Great Blackout of 2003

Disasters like the Northeastern Blackout, as well as tragic events such as the 2018 Camp and Paradise wildfires in California, should be reminders of the need for private citizens and legislators to pay attention to the nation’s infrastructure.

Overloaded power lines, overgrown trees adjacent to power lines, neglected equipment, and outdated or poorly deployed software are major causes of blackouts, as well as wildfires. Blaming climate change and pouring tax money into green deals won’t help. Blaming power utilities or clamoring for government-owned suppliers won’t help. Using tragedies to advance agendas won’t help.

Even when there is specific legislation purporting to address power grid challenges, such legislation is often questionable, wasteful or both. The recent return to the U.S. Senate of Senator Angus King’s (I-Maine) proposal to replace digital power nodes with analog ones could serve as example. The Senator’s argument for proposing (in 2017, 2018 and now in 2019) a return to analog power systems is that the U.S. needs to protect its power grid from a cyber attack such as the one Ukraine suffered in 2015. True, no way to digitally attack what is not digital. However, with analog systems, there is no way to deal with massive and immediate movement of power when that is necessary to prevent or curtail regional overloads.

We Need To Focus on Infrastructure Not On Tweets

We have become a nation of Tweets. Why are we Tweeting about some legislator’s racial profile instead of his responsibility to keep his state free of crime and rats? Why are we Tweeting about Pacific Gas & Electric’s profit “greed” instead demanding that inspection crews follow up on aging or neglected equipment? Our infrastructure is crumbling before our eyes, including some of our power systems, but we focus on agenda-driven and/or distracting tactics instead.

Take Action of August 14, 2019

The Just Vote No Blog suggests observance on August 14 of the great Northeastern Blackout of 2003.  This would be a good day for everybody to contact their legislators and suggest they stop squabbling and start working on the increasing demands on our power grids.