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United States The Internet

Task Force Finds Blackout Was Preventable 438

Shakrai writes "In what will probably be the last we hear of this subject CNN is carrying a story that states what we already suspected: the August blackout was preventable. One of the more interesting observations from this article is that this task force will remain active for the next year to push for their changes and improvements to be adopted. Does anyone think any change will come of this? If you lived in the Northeast US or Canada what were your memories of the August Blackout?" The full report is available at reports.energy.gov.
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Task Force Finds Blackout Was Preventable

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  • by deggy ( 195861 )
    Why is it that we have this never ending need for more powerlines and more electricity rather than looking for alternatives with any real conviction?
    • by cindy ( 19345 )
      This [slashdot.org] may give you a hint...
    • by secolactico ( 519805 ) on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:21PM (#8782474) Journal
      Why is it that we have this never ending need for more powerlines and more electricity rather than looking for alternatives with any real conviction?

      What would the alternatives be? Household generated power? As long as your electricity is generated centrally (regardless of the source), you will always need powerlines. And as long as the population keeps growing, the demand for more power will require more powerlines.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        And as long as the population keeps growing, the demand for more power will require more powerlines.


        Ah, but you can't blame it all on population growth. Our 2000" plama TVs and weapons grade subwoofers are adding to the problem.
      • There are always alternatives. How much are you willing to pay? :) The problem is that these alternatives aren't popular enough to take advantages of economies of scale. One of my favorite websites on this subject is Home Power [homepower.com]. You'll find a lot of interesting, expensive alternatives there.

        Go for it. Be green and poor, all at the same time!

      • by geolane ( 321897 ) on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @03:24PM (#8783383)
        Households can purchase solar panels and more efficient appliances (dishwashers, clothes washer / drier, hot water heater, fridge, oven, air conditioning).

        Both will help reduce the amount of new powerlines required.

        In addition, laws can be passed requiring minimum efficiencies.

        There could be tax breaks given to companies that reduce their peak use (telecommuting / opening at night).

        None of these necessitate more powerlines.

        In addition, the blackout didn't happen 10 years ago.
        What has changed since then? Deregulation.

        • (long, get to the end before you flame)

          Households can purchase solar panels and more efficient appliances (dishwashers, clothes washer / drier, hot water heater, fridge, oven, air conditioning).

          I look into solar power every once in a while. As it stands, a typical suburban grid-addict like myself has almost no useful options. First off, those appliances you list form a tidy list of things that you can't run off of solar-panel charged batteries; High-current appliances really make the batteries work hard

      • The main alternatives:

        cold
        darkness
        poverty
        hardship

        In different combinations at varying levels.
    • by Saeed al-Sahaf ( 665390 ) on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:25PM (#8782549) Homepage
      I take it you live on a commune, and run your computer on hampster and wind power? Fire up your heater with methane from your farm animal's shit, do you? Peddle to work on a bike? Use newspaper for toilet paper just to get maximum useage?

      Seriously, as a society we consume the amount of electricity we do because we demand the standard of living that we do. When you are ready to give up your computer / TV / radio / stereo / CD player / car / iPod (yes, your iPod will have to go!), then go ahead and harp all you want about energy consumption. Untill then...

    • Money. Plain and simple. It's still more money efficient to build more lines and more plants than to wait for or fund the science behind alternative energy. When science yields a cost effective solution and it gets mass produced, then we'll see a swtich.
    • There are alternatives... unfortunately they require $$$$$$$

      There's the geothermal option to heat your house which basically runs a pipe down into the earth where it's warm and then takes the warmth and pumps it to the house.

      Then there is solar power. Unless you live out in Arizona or somewhere that get's lots of sun you can't really run entirely on this but you can use it to suppliment your power. Plus if you go away or something, you can actually give power back to the power company and build up a credi
    • Why is it that we have this never ending need for more powerlines and more electricity rather than looking for alternatives with any real conviction?

      Whoa, michael not only posted the story, but got first post too... impressive.


  • by bonnyman ( 662966 ) * on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:13PM (#8782350) Homepage
    Slashdot had a great story on the blackout last year:

    Guinnessy writes "The latest issues of the Industrial Physicist [tipmagazine.com] suggests that 'the vast system of electricity generation, transmission, and distribution that covers the United States and Canada is essentially a single machine [tipmagazine.com] -- by many measures, the world's biggest machine.' The article says that because deregulation ignored the physics of the machine, we have blackouts, a fact the industry warned regulators about in 1998. It has some nice hard science data for those interested in why we're going to get some more blackouts in the future unless Congress gets its act together." I work with power utilities -- this is the best single explanation I've seen of the underlying problems of transmission management and regulation in the U.S.
    • are mostly of pointing and laughing as i had just moved out of NYC. ;-)

      it was pretty insane to see aerial pictures of NYC (no not the fake "satelite", gimped ones where they used a black smudge tool over the northeast.

      change is hard to produce. it's co$$$t$$$

  • Memories? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Cytlid ( 95255 ) on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:14PM (#8782359)

    If you lived in the Northeast US or Canada what were your memories of the August Blackout?


    It was dark and there were no computers.
    • Re:Memories? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by jellomizer ( 103300 ) * on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:22PM (#8782492)
      It is funny for me and most of the people in the Troy, Albany NY area the blackout wasn't that long. About 20 minutes. I was working at home and I decided to call the office for some Info. While I was talking to them I was hearing their UPS's in the background. Then realizing that they were scrabling to turn off all non-critical servers to extend UPS life so I hanged up. After I hanged up my UPS went off at the same time. So I rechecked the phone to make sure it was on hooked. then I relized my clock was off and I was running on battery for my laptop (my Wireless Access Point was on UPS and the Cable Modem). I was kinda suprized that the power was out from Troy to Albany. Then I got a little woried when I heard my friend in CT had a power outage. So in about 20 minutes power was back on. And I decided to watch the News on TV.
    • by qfranke ( 694077 )
      I had a great time in Toronto. No looting and the and everyone out in the streets made it very safe. Thanks to lax Canadian drug laws it was a big party pretty much everywhere. The one thing I was suprised about was that no one raised prices for candles, canned food etc. Someone said after the fact there should be a blackout every year in the summer. I agree. It was a fun holiday with just enough drama to keep us all excited.
    • I don't know. I blacked out.

      *rimshot*
    • Re:Memories? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by re-Verse ( 121709 ) on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:43PM (#8782859) Homepage Journal
      I live in Toronto, Canada. The largest city in Canada, and it was completely peaceful. In fact, people with generators threw parties down town, there were a few djs spinning outside of a record shop, hooked up to a generator... Japanese food and wood oven cooked stuff was everywhere, and there was a real sense of community. Neighborhoods came alive with communal barbeques, and you could see the milky way so clearly at night. There was a real sense of beauty to everything. I brought water to the elderly women on the floor of the highrise i was in, and when the power came back, they brought me endless dishes of delicious indian food. Its one of my fondest memories of this city. So much that I've heard more than a few people wish we could have a "blackout night" once a month in the nicer summer months.. to erase our technology and embrace human culture, and nature, if only for a little while. I didn't even really think about my computer while the power was out, and I usually live on it. I know there was a lot of damage and harm from all of it, but a lot of us experienced something beautiful.
      • by miquels ( 37972 )
        I was vacationing in Toronto at the time, I pressed the elevator button in the hotel that afternoon and the power went out. I actually thought for a moment "uh-oh, did I do that ?" ;)

        Fortunately we were already invited by Canadian friends that night for dinner. They just threw a barbequeue instead. They had gotten large bags of ice (just in time, people were lining up for those) to keep the beer cool. Friends and family came over and we had a great party !
  • Economist Article (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Infernon ( 460398 ) * <{moc.liamg} {ta} {nonrefni}> on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:15PM (#8782381)
    The Economist recently had a great article on this particular subject.
    It was mainly in favor of decentralization and mimicking the internet in terms of distributing power to remote locations. Smaller more 'frequent' stations placed around the country would allow power to be routed 'around' a dead area should the surrounding stations lose contact with it-- I suppose that explaining that here was sort of moot:)
    Anyway, I think that they've adopted this method in Denmark and it's been working excellently despite the initial skepticism of critics.
    • by wilsonjd ( 597750 )
      It's very difficult to implement this when the prevaling attitude of most Americans is: "I need my electric power, but I don't want a power plant anywhere within 100 miles of my home."
      • ...that most people associate "Power Plant" with this huge generation facility- which is what typically is built because of the economies of scale, etc.

        You can do the Denmark thing rather easily with much smaller power plants. Something on the order of 100kW to 10MW that would nearly be unobtrusive compared to the traditional 100+MW plants people see. The big reason why you don't see micro plants is that they're more expensive to operate and therefore cut into the power companies' margins.

    • Re:Economist Article (Score:5, Interesting)

      by HalfStarted ( 639977 ) on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:37PM (#8782745) Journal
      In addition to the point made about "not in my back yard" there are economies of scale at work with power generation that are not relevant to the Internet. In general with current power production technologies there are substantial savings in scaling up plants to larger sizes to generate significant operational cost savings. There is also the issue that unless you are using a consumable fuel source (fossil or nuclear) you can't just put a power plant were ever you want. Not all locations are suitable for solar, wind or hydro power stations and even these "green" power production technologies have significant environmental impacts.
    • It's being done here in the U.S., too. It's called Distributed Generation. You place trailer-sized generators in or near substations, and run them off of natural gas, or whatever fuel makes economic sense. They're really popular for "peaking" applications, where you kick them in as you approach your peak load for the circuit you're feeding, share the load with the grid until the load drops down, and then drop out the generator.

      /shameless plug - no pun intended/
      Check out Plug Power [plugpower.com] too
      /end shameless plug/

    • Economist ??

      Where do your loyalties lie?

      Our very own slashdot [slashdot.org] had that story. Well, so the slashdot story is about the Economist article of which you speak, but still ...

    • Re:Economist Article (Score:3, Interesting)

      by timeOday ( 582209 )
      Rerouting doesn't help much unless you have some overcapacity to reroute. Power plants are expensive, you can't survive in a deregulated market by building extra plants "just in case." At some point you have to ask whether you want to pay 20% more to get that last 0.001% availability.
    • Re:Economist Article (Score:5, Interesting)

      by danharan ( 714822 ) on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @03:03PM (#8783139) Journal
      It seems a significant percentage of the /. crowd prefers nuclear (fission and fusion) over your idea.

      Sure, widely distributed smaller stations would make the whole grid more stable. If you use such things as natural gas cogeneration, it might also be cheaper than current systems and more environmentally friendly to boot.

      At the end of the day, this debate will be settled if corporations are allowed to look for the cheapest energy solutions. The fact we're not building many more nuclear plants has less to do with NIMBY movements than hard economics: they cost more than coal and natural gas.

      Cost-effective co-generators are getting better, and growing their market share. In my region, a mid-sized university is trying to have one installed, fighting against government regulators that would let the local monopoly simply add a turbine to one of their old plants.

      Meanwhile, wind [earth-policy.org] is dropping in price [earth-policy.org]: from $0.38 per Kilowatt-Hour in 1982 to $0.18 in 1990. Prices are now under $0.06, and it is "projected that the average cost per kilowatt hour of wind-generated electricity will drop to 2.6 by 2010 and to 2.1 by 2020."

      Additional wind and co-generation capacity can be added much, much faster than new nuclear plants can be built, and in smaller increments.

      For all those reasons, a system like the one you describe is not only a good thing, it is the most likely one to happen.
  • And how much did we pay to learn the very profound, "it could have been prevented"?
  • by fearlezz ( 594718 ) on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:16PM (#8782393) Homepage
    "Everything is bigger in America"

    Even power outages :)
  • Dark (Score:3, Funny)

    by macdaddy ( 38372 ) on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:17PM (#8782401) Homepage Journal
    Well, at least one good thing came out of the Blackout. CowboyNeal is no longer afraid of the dark!
  • Security Focus (Score:5, Informative)

    by savagedome ( 742194 ) on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:17PM (#8782402)
    SF carried an article [securityfocus.com] a couple of months ago regarding software bug that contributed to the blackout.
  • got me outside (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Zeppelingb ( 609128 )
    The blackout was one of the best excuses to get away from my computer for a few days. A bunch of us gathered outdoors, barbequed, and played beerpong by car light. Sometimes I think this is exactly what we need to get us back into the "real world".
  • by danuary ( 748394 ) on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:18PM (#8782417)
    I was lucky -- I live in NYC and got off the subway 10 minutes before the blackout. If I had missed that train I probably would have ended up having to walk out from the middle of one of the east river tunnels. 350,000 people were on the NYC subway when the blackout hit. That had to -suck-....
  • by October_30th ( 531777 ) on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:18PM (#8782419) Homepage Journal
    "The report says [bbc.co.uk] reliance on voluntary industry standards meant that many problems were simply not addressed."

    I just wonder if the industries in general are self-regulating themselves as well as this when it comes to environmental issues and maintaining fair competition in the markets.

    I fear not.

    • by Orne ( 144925 ) on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:58PM (#8783072) Homepage
      Your fears are born of ignorance; have no worry.

      Environmental Issues are not self-regulated; "fortunately" (tongue-in-cheek) we have the government to police it for us [epa.gov]. Bulk power generators are very regulated on emissions, even to the point that generators will take outages for "opacity" indicating they have reached their "pollution credit" limit and can't generate electricity anymore.

      Market Monitoring, however, is self-regulating, and so far has proven to be a critical source of improvement. They are tasked with finding market power issues, and defusing them so noone has unfair advantages over any other players. For the east coast players, PJM [pjm.com], NYISO [nyiso.com], ISO-NE [iso-ne.com]... California ISO used to have one, until they dismantled their market, not sure what happened to it. S.E.Trans (~4 states in SouthEast) agreements fell apart. ERCOT (Texas) is pretty well along (I seem to recall a market overhaul brought on by recommendations on local pricing), and MISO was going to start a market, but after the blackout decided to delay theirs... and the rest of the country is barely ready to de-regulate.

      I fear more about the regulated utilities, because they operate in a closed fashion, socializing the cost of their problems over all their customers, and preventing outside entities from building improvements in their systems...

  • I was at work. All I remember was everyone coming out of the building and crowing around cars to listen to the radio. Everyone kept saying, "Terrorism. That's got to be it. What else could it be?" Sad world when that's the first thought that comes to mind.
  • by dcstimm ( 556797 ) on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:19PM (#8782441) Homepage
    I was working at compusa, then we heard a weird noise and all the lights went out. I remember tring to get everyone out of the store, and waiting up front near the registers waiting for the lights to come back up. In the mean while we plugged a radio into the UPS that we had powering the registers. So we were still able to ring people out and buy water and candy. :) At the time I took the bus to work and they canceled all the buses, so I had to get a ride home from this hot girl that worked with me, we ended up getting married, because we bonded on that day. I would say it was a good day for me.
  • Things do go wrong (Score:5, Informative)

    by JaxWeb ( 715417 ) on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:19PM (#8782447) Homepage Journal
    Things do go wrong, and when things go wrong, they normally are preventable. People accept this, and understand it might happen. This is, for example, why there is so much opposition to Nuclear Power.

    However, according to the article, there were rules in place to stop this happened, which were not followed (Quote: "Many reliability rules were ignored during the outages, the task force said.").

    Also, it says:

    "As it did in its interim report, the task force largely blamed FirstEnergy Corp., [...] faulting the company's lack of communication, faulty equipment and inadequate training"

    These two points draw the line on acceptable accidents. This not only should have been prevented, but also it is due to neglect of rules and short-sightedness which caused it to happen.
  • by morcheeba ( 260908 ) * on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:19PM (#8782450) Journal
    I wasn't in the area during the blackouts, but I did see a history channel special on it a month or two ago. It claimed, for a fact, "nine months later, there was a surge in births recorded at area hospitals". I guess they were trying to aim for syndication from the get-go, but come on - please don't make up facts; either wait until May, or just report that doctors reported a surge in mothers-to-be.
  • by Amadaeus ( 526475 ) on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:20PM (#8782456) Homepage
    "If you lived in the Northeast US or Canada what were your memories of the August Blackout?"

    Well, a few days after the blackout I made a photo-documentary of the 'mayhem' that was downtown Toronto during the great blackout of '03.

    The documentary is located here [uwaterloo.ca]
  • "If you lived in the Northeast US or Canada what were your memories of the August Blackout?"


    You insensitive clod! I live in Massachusetts.

  • My memory (Score:2, Interesting)

    by crow ( 16139 )
    If you lived in the Northeast US or Canada what were your memories of the August Blackout?

    I was at Pennsic [pennsicwar.org], a medieval camping event near Pittsburg. We were right near the boarder of the affected area; I don't know if we were hit or not--when you're trying to live in the 13th century, you don't notice when the power goes out.
  • by The I Shing ( 700142 ) * on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:21PM (#8782475) Journal
    I was at the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, NY, when I walked up to a vendor who sells Buffalo-style chicken fingers. "Sorry," he told me, "we just had to shut down, there's no power." I couldn't believe it. I just thought maybe a circuit had blown somewhere and a few of the food vendors had no electricity. Then I heard some guy nearby get off his cell phone and say to his wife, "Yeah, he said power's out all over the place, from New York City up into Canada." We were desperate for more news. My companions and I bopped around the fair trying to find out what happened, and finally we just gave up and decided to head home, since the fair was closing at sundown since there were not going to be lit up after dark. One of my companions wanted to know if the power was still on at home, and I just said to her, "Call home with your cell and see if the answering machine comes on," which she did. The power was indeed on at home. So, we all headed home and watched the TV news coverage of the massive blackout in disbelief.
  • First they blamed CANADA then they reneged on that - then they said Ohio, and now the whole thing was 'preventable.'
    No shit it was preventable, we've got a 50 year old electric grid in desperate need of repair. Maybe some of the $87 Billion that going to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure could rebuild our electrical grid. The sad reality is that by the end of 2004, Iraq will have a more modern Power Grid than NYC and the whole golden horseshoe
  • If you lived in the Northeast US or Canada what were your memories of the August Blackout?

    Cursing myself that I didn't fill up my car on the way home. Traffic was horrible and I just got home on fumes. However, for some reason, I remember waking up at 2AM, looking out my apartment window, and noticing my local McDonalds and Petro Canada gas station had power. So, I phoned them to find out they had power and were pumping gas (at regular prices, not the "99.9/l" price). So, my wife and I went and got gas

  • what I remember (Score:3, Informative)

    by WormholeFiend ( 674934 ) on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:21PM (#8782480)
    is people who would normally be too busy to have social lives, using electrical gadgets, computers, televisions, etc. would suddenly engage in actually talking to strangers in groups in the street.

    I thought it was an interesting phenomenon. We should have periodic, planned blackouts more often!

    Not to mention the urban backyard astronomers, who would be very happy too.
  • withdrawl (Score:4, Funny)

    by Inominate ( 412637 ) on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:22PM (#8782486)
    I remember sitting in a corner, shaking violently, seeing visions of slashdot on blank monitors.
  • Claiming that the failure of a human endeavor was preventable? Unbelievable!
  • Blackout (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Rotting ( 7243 )
    The blackout, while annoying was made far worse by the media than it actually was. My power was out for more than 25 hours so I opted to read a book instead of bitch and complain. Perhaps others were affected in a manner worse than I, but I imagine there are others in this world that go through far worse every day.

    I agree the system has problems that need to be addressed as I do not know how long hospitals/fire/police can last on battery power but this really seems like the media wanted to drag it out too
  • 2 days off (building shut down), Barbecues with the neighbours in the yard, and watching DVDs in the van. :)

    Again! Again!
  • Blackout Memories (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Mordaximus ( 566304 )
    • Dude parking his pedal bike, and directing traffic at a busy interestion, in 30C+ degree heat.
    • Other people stopping at corner store to get newly appointed traffic dude water and other drinkables.
    • Many, Many people being polite, patient and courteous (I wish everyone drove this well when there is power!).
    • Giant BBQ party to get rid of meat before it thaws.
    • Drinking lots of beer, and saying dude alot.
    • Water Fights.
    • Sitting in pitch black enjoying total silence.
    • Can't go to work cause government said so. Can
  • Texas. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DAldredge ( 2353 )
    One nice thing about the electrical grid in the state of Texas is that it is, pretty much, it's own selfcontained grid.

    Rather nice considering the state of the other two main grids in the country.
  • i left work at 4:05 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by circletimessquare ( 444983 ) <circletimessquare@g m a il.com> on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:28PM (#8782585) Homepage Journal
    i left work at 4:05, a few minutes before the blackout, and my coworkers had to walk down untold amounts of staircases as i would learn later.

    walking home, i noticed people filing out of upscale shops with alarms going off on 57th st in midtown manhattan. it was kind of funny: the whole block is out of power, the snobs can't get their overpriced crap, haha.

    but as i got closer home, and the streets filled with more and more and more people, and the gridlock and honking horns ensued since the traffic lights were out, and i watched people unable to operate their cell phones, and fighting over access to the public phones, i started to lose my sense of humor.

    than a red-faced guy ran by: toronto is out! he was shouting.

    i survived sept 11th (until that day i worked at 5 world trace center, which was reduced to a charred husk), so this was now very not funny.

    when i got home, i speculated with my super that is was either the heat, the latest windows wonder worm making it's rounds, or al qaeda.

    but the night was, with relief, uneventful. listening to the radio, i learned the last blackout in nyc decades ago was filled with looting. but the bars around times square were doing smashing business: they lost refirdgeration, so they had to get rid of their beer anyways, and no one could get home or do anything productive, so everyone was getting drunk.

    so a night that i thought would be spent in paranoia and fear, was spent with happy drunks and a sort of casual immediate sense of community, what with thousands of people sleeping in the streets in tims square.

    the morning was filled with satellite news crews from everywhere (so that's what bill hemmer looks like in real life) making grand standing journalism in times square, jockeying for good vantage points on every corner, so clearly, it was now a comic circus again.

    everyone walked everywhere, which is good for your heart, and people were filled with drunken wonder, not terror, so the blackout in times square was, in recollection, not so awful.
  • NERC Recommendations (Score:5, Informative)

    by stecoop ( 759508 ) * on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:28PM (#8782590) Journal
    Here is a reader's digest version of the recommendations being presented to correct the outage (its 238 pages and I didn't find who was going to pay for the changes):

    1. Correct the Direct Causes of the August 14, 2003 Blackout - don't let this happen again and how can we fix it.

    2. Strengthen the NERC Compliance Enforcement Program - if you don't follow the rules and regulation your going to get fined with a heavier hand.

    3. Initiate Control Area and Reliability Coordinator Reliability Readiness Audits - standardization.

    4. Evaluate Vegetation Management Procedures and Results. - cut the stupid trees out of the power lines.

    5. Establish a Program to Track Implementation of Recommendations - adopt changes consistently and measure your progress in regards to outages.

    6. Improve Operator and Reliability Coordinator Training. - Homer Simpson really doesn't run a nuclear power plant

    7. Evaluate Reactive Power and Voltage Control Practices - ensure that the power plant has reserve capacity to pickup it's load if something goes wrong instead of shutting down completely.

    8. Improve System Protection to Slow or Limit the Spread of Future Cascading Outages - isolate the outages in a better fashion.

    9. Clarify Reliability Coordinator and Control Area Functions, Responsibilities, Capabilities and Authorities - someone needs to run the show and have authority to delegate tasks.

    10. Establish Guidelines for Real-Time Operating Tools - more network monitoring and voltage gauges.

    11. Evaluate Lessons Learned During System Restoration - we paid a big price for this mistake, you better get something out of it.

    12. Install Additional Time-Synchronized Recording Devices as Needed - to much data to evaluate in real-time.

    13. Reevaluate System Design, Planning and Operating Criteria - the electrical network couldn't handle this outage so address the root cause.

    14. Improve System Modeling Data and Data Exchange Practices - we didn't have a good simulator to forecast outages and handle it properly.
  • by Lord of Ironhand ( 456015 ) <arjen@xyx.nl> on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:28PM (#8782592) Homepage
    Since I live in the Netherlands, I didn't experience the blackdown this article is about. There was, however, a local blackdown here shortly before that, and it lasted 24 hours.

    My experience: Absolutely fantastic. People who are normally spending all day watching TV or behind a computer (yes, I'm guilty too) sat outside reading books, playing games, enjoying the sunset or taking a stroll through the forest.

    And the sight of an entire town lit by nothing but moonlight is not something I'll easily forget. I'm probably sounding like a whiny bastard, but that event made me seriously doubt whether all the technology we have today have actually made life better as we like to tell ourselves.

    • I also don't know about all of the technology making our lives better. However, I do believe two things are indisputable:

      1) Medicine. Any time I feel bad about technology's effects, I look at things like infant mortality, rates of disease, average lifespan. It's incredible what we've done there to improve the human condition.

      2) Communication. The sheer fact that we can communicate instantly, anywhere in the world, is amazing. This helps to expose us to so much more information and so many viewpoints. It a
  • by melquiades ( 314628 ) on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:29PM (#8782607) Homepage
    Bruce Schneier put forward the hypothesis [schneier.com] that the problems at FirstEnergy were caused by the MSBlast virus. The company is generally considered the place where the problem could have been prevented, but their operational computers failed to sound the alarm at the critical moment. In fact, "for over an hour no one in FE's control room grasped that their computer systems were not operating properly, even though FE's Information Technology support staff knew of the problems and were working to solve them." What "problems" were these? Well, we don't know, but this happened at exactly the time that MSBlast was spreading...and isn't that just...interesting.

    It's only a hypothesis, of course. His argument is basically, "Here's some really, really compelling circumstantial evidence; somebody should look in to this."

    I wonder: Did anybody look into it? Has anybody heard any more about this intriguing theory? Do we know what the problem with the operational machines actually was from this new report? Just what problem was FirstEnergy's IT staff fixing?
  • If you lived in the Northeast US or Canada what were your memories of the August Blackout?

    During peak use times, our electric company asks local businesses to switch to generator power. We didn't know for a while after the fact (i.e. - clients behind PBXs were unreachable, etc) that there was a blackout for a little while.

    I was tempted to stay in my office overnight, but there were no comfortable places to sleep and I ran out of change for the snack machine. While most people sweltered, I had air condi
  • A funny thing happens when the power goes out in a High Energy Physics lab:

    That afternoon everyone came out of their labs, immediately saying "It wasn't *my* lab, we didn't even have anything plugged in! Who did it?! Who turned something on! 'Fess up now!"

    Then everyone began to get worried when they noticed that the library across the street was also without power. "Ohhh no. What did we do? I thought the transformer was meant to shutdown if something happened!"

    Of course someone had a dynamo radio o
  • I was in Toronto when the blackout first hit. It almost fun at first: beautiful thursday evening and the sidewalks and streets were filled with people. Lots of stores selling ice cream cheap, etc...

    On friday morning I learned the office was closed (woo-hoo) and by 10am the power was back on. Unforunately at 10:30 the power was off again.

    Turns out the the initial draw was too much for the local station and caused a fire. As most of rest of the city was lit up around me on Friday night, I was still in
  • No memory at all (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Random BedHead Ed ( 602081 ) on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:30PM (#8782638) Homepage Journal
    I have no memory of the blackout because I live in Massachusetts, the eastern bit of which was one of the few places with power. So I had the unusual experience of surfing the web and seeing stories on news sites claiming that the northeast was in a state of backout, but since I was on the web it was obvisously at least partly untrue.

    Curiously, I work at a research hospital with a large collection of refrigerated brains (no kidding, honestly), so we have our own power backup and probably would have stayed up anyway. (Of course we pump out juice to the local town when they're low, so it's possible we would have been dragged down with them.)

  • With our current liberal government insisting on cutting [opha.on.ca] short [sierraclub.ca] Ontario's hydro supply (both nuclear and coal) (and at the same time raising rates), we're going to be screwed [energyprobe.org] awfully quickly.

    Expect more. Much more from the next blackout.

    Remember Ontario: You elected the government you deserve.
  • My Memories (Score:3, Interesting)

    by akiaki007 ( 148804 ) <aa316@@@nyu...edu> on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:32PM (#8782658)
    Well, they were similar to many people's memories from that night. I've always dreamt of seeing Manhattan without lights, I just didn't think it would ever happen.

    At about 4:30 (when the UPS's died) we left. At this point we knew a couple of things. The entire North East had lost power, up to Ohio and parts of Canada. We knew nothing else since we didn't have a radio with us, so I left to go home and was a bit worried about what actually happened. I found out on the streets while walking from Wall St. to the Brooklyn Bridge. On the way there, I decided to go to Heartland Brewery and have a few pints. After it got dark they kicked everyone out because we couldn't see anymore. They had also run out of all alcohol mixers, so it was beer only (until they ran out of that). Luckly beer was powered through with kegs and tanks, so beer flowed plenty. I was there with quite a few travellers and NYers alike. 8PM I decided to take the long walk home. Wow, so many people, and I got a great picture [5vs1.com] (mirror please...) of the NY skyline. Anyway, get across the bridge, and swarms of people are helping taffic - pretty cool, because otherwise it would be complete chaos. I was also greeted by the borough president - I guess he had nothing else to do.

    Finally, walking down Atlantic Ave (quite busy avenue in Brooklyn) all the stores had set up on the street and so had the Deli's. Everything was cheap and everyone was drinking beer to keep cool. Who needs water? People were everywhere sitting on their roofs and stoops hanging out with friends and relaxing. People were running on the less crowded streets and playing games until it was too dark, and then the bars. My god, the bars were crowded that night. Every bar on Smith St (where a lot of bars and restaurants are in Brooklyn Heights/Cobble Hill area) was completely packed. It was a lot of fun. That was a great night to meet lots of random people and just laugh at the fact that no one has power.

    I can't remember anything terrible that happened that night - except that I had to go to work the next morning and wait outside my building till 2pm (eventually went home because I wouldn't get in until after the market closed). Hey, if the blackout can happen again, so can all the fun. All in all, NYers pulled it together and helped each other out where needed, and managed to have fun at the same time. I'm just glad I lived in Brooklyn at the time and not upstate NY like some of my co-workers...
  • My power was only out for 6-10 hours or so. My cell phone worked for a bit but then the network went down for whatever reason.

    So, I walk down the street to a pay-phone to make a call, cus whadda ya know, I'm all stocked up on blackout quarters.

    New electronic Bell phones will not accept a quarter for a call when there is no power. I couldn't make a call in any way, or even get to the operator to make a collect call.

    Sad, really.
  • I was with some friends canoeing down Pine Creek in Northwest PA. We stopped in a very small town with a giftshop/cafe, and heard the shop owner say he had to plug the ice cream freezer into a generator. At the time we assumed that the distant thunderstorms we had heard the previous night were responsible for a localized power outage-- not till we arrived home did we hear how our whole state (NY) had been affected.
  • I was working graveyard shift at the time, so I was asleep when it hit. My UPS started squawking at me when the power failed. My cable modem showed no signal, and I decided not to bother. Power down on both (ext3 is nice!) and just went back to bed. When I woke up to start my day (night), everything was back.

    I still would have had to go to work that night. The factory where I was working, had been deemed "critical" by the US gov't when it was built, so it has its very own power plant, which is always war
  • Memories... Blackout 2003 - Detroit, Michigan.

    It was dark, but only when I turned my G2 Nitrolon [surefire.com] off.

    Seriously though...
    I enjoyed the time away from the computer as we visited with neighbors and enjoyed the cool-ness of the basement (finished) when in the house.
    Interesting to hear about how people starting panicking after only 12 hours of being without power. Looting was minimal though, which was pleasantly surprising for the area we live in.
    I think if the blackout had lasted much longer it would ha

  • memories? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Frag-A-Muffin ( 5490 ) on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:36PM (#8782738) Homepage
    Actually, it was one of the most beautiful nights I've seen in Toronto, ON, Canada. :) I could actually see the stars, and it happened to be around the time when mars was nice and visible to the naked eye.

    In fact, I wish we didn't have so many lights on at night. I don't think we need all the lights that we do have on after the sun sets. I'd say we could do with half, it'll save a lot of energy and it'd be a lot more pleasant. Of course the flip side of this is safety. Would people feel as safe walking around downtown anymore? Probably not. Oh well. It was fun while it lasted.

    PS I live in downtown Toronto, and it's generally quite bright even at 3am.
  • because in a short while, all the kids will start poppin' out...as scheduled, 9 months after august :)
  • I remember walking around and enjoying seeing everyone hanging out on their front steps, and sharing food.

    I also remember imagining a refrigerator-sized fuel-cell generator on every block, so this wouldn't happen (until the hydrogen supply ran out). Then I mentally added various redundancies, like rooftop solar and a windmill. Then I read the paper about the oil wars that continue to broil.
  • by deft ( 253558 ) on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:37PM (#8782761) Homepage
    My memory of the blackout: There I was, computer went down. I didn't Seemed an awful long time till the power came back on and I could log back in.

    Alot of people were worried about me when I check back on the forums. Some peeps on IRC were like "where were you?!?". Gave em a real scare that time!

  • My memory: panic (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hoggoth ( 414195 ) on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:38PM (#8782764) Journal
    > If you lived in the Northeast US or Canada what were your memories of the August Blackout?"

    My memory of the blackout was first: 'darn, my power went out. I wonder if someone hit a pole'.

    With by the realization that power was out as far as I could see I switched to mild panic wondering if this was the beginning of a massive terrorist attack (I'm in New York). The phones were out, cell phones were out as well, I had no battery powered radios so there was no way of getting information. I was wondering how in the hell I would get my family off of an island with millions of people. I can't get off this island in any reasonable time under normal conditions.

    So I filled up as many bottles as I could find with water and put them all in the basement. I figured if the infrastructure went to hell I would need water for my family. I figured I'd hear about any contamination in the water within a few days and we'd drink juice and soda until then.

    Then I found out it was a blackout and we had a barbecue with the neighbors and the kids had a great time playing with their dad who for once wasn't working all day.

    It's nice to remember once in a while that it doesn't take much to be happy.

  • by _xeno_ ( 155264 ) on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @02:38PM (#8782773) Homepage Journal
    ...which is in the US Northeast, remember, my memories of the blackout were vague news reports of a possible terrorist strike (which slowly changed to "Blame Canada"), and the lights staying on for the duration of the "US Northeast Blackout." :P

    I also remember that the Daily Show played a lousy clip show that night. I was upset... I had hoped they would have battery-backup or something, and was looking forward to the Hillary Clinton interview (that was done later and turned out to be as boring as everyone else expected).

    Er - that's about it, though.

    I think some parts of MA were hit, but I live in the north-east section of MA, so the lights stayed on. Still plenty of people managed to panic anyway, thinking that the lights were going to go out "any minute now" but they never did. Apparently we just got lucky, though. Although I'm curious if our town would have lost power, since its public power system has proven to be very reliable and gets power from many sources. It's always fun when a snow-storm knocks out the surrounding towns power and our lights stay on. :)

  • I was on a cross-country trip from Calgary to Toronto to visit my family. I had only been in Ontario for under 24 hours when, click, all the lights go off. We're out in the boonies, everyone assumes someone has just had an accident and knocked out a transmission line. An hour later, everything is still out. Gas is getting low. We're approaching North Bay, tank almost empty, and everything is still completely out. We decide, at this point, we'd better not go any further, so we stop at a gas station to wait f
  • We're coming up to the nine month anniversary of the blackout, so we'll see if there's a corresponding spike in birthrates. Of course, not from this crowd - this is Slashdot...
  • ... the group would remain active for another year to push for its recommendations.

    Am I missing something, or is this fairly unique? Most if not all such ad hoc fact finding groups at this level end up getting disbanded immediately after their report is finished. In fact, there is often great political pressure (in the form of initial budget or time constraints) to wind these up. Any follow-through is left to politicians or the subject organization, often without further review. Here, the group appar

  • "One of the more interesting observations from this article is that this task force will remain active for the next year to push for their changes and improvements to be adopted."

    Great. What that really means is that some government spud will get involved, force changes, then my bill will go up with a new line item for "recovery costs". Looks like electric will have something in common with broadband [DSL] after all. :-)
  • by ozric99 ( 162412 ) on Tuesday April 06, 2004 @03:46PM (#8783676) Journal
    Well, GPRS and the Nokia 6100 I had with me while I was stuck on the runway at Detroit for 5+ hours was an absolute godsend. The captain told us that there was a power cut in the airport (we had landed about 30 minutes after the thing started). At that point I took out my phone, found a local carrier (I think it was AT&T) and after trying to connect for about 20 minutes I finally got a signal. Checked BBC and Ananova websites and saw that we were not alone with no power. The lady I was sat next to coincidentally worked for some power company and, while speaking to her husband/boyfriend on her mobile, screamed out "I can hear my boss on CNN!!!11". heh

    US Immigration wouldn't let us get off the plane with the ladder trucks so they flew us across to Minneapolis a few hours later. After another few hours I finally got through immigration only to find that my luggage had been lost!
    Not the best day ever, and the airline refused to either put us up or refund the $120 it cost me to grab one of the last hotel rooms in a local Holiday Inn.

    Finally got to Dallas the next morning, got my luggage delivered to Oklahoma the next day (on a Sunday too - woo yay!), and received a nice "thank god you got here ok" present from my fiance which more than made up for the previous day ;-)

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