By Arka Dhar, Zinier
On a hot summer afternoon in 2003, an overloaded power line in Cleveland, Ohio drooped onto underlying foliage, tripping the high-voltage line and sending a power surge back through the system.
Earlier that day, a technician in the area had gone to lunch after repairing an alarm processor and neglected to turn the system back on. Without the proper safeguards in place, line after line throughout the region tripped. Neighboring grids started feeding power into Northeastern Ohio, tripping more lines until cities as far as Detroit and New York were in the dark.
It was the largest blackout in American history. In New York, the subway system ground to a halt, stranding commuters and trains. Across the region, more than 50 million people lost power.
What Went Wrong
Looking back at the blackout, a few lessons stand out:
- The importance of real-time visibility: In 2003, it took more than half an hour (and multiple calls from customers and other sites) for back-office coordinators to realize the magnitude of the problem.
- The danger of unplanned downtime: In Cleveland, mission-critical infrastructure was not properly maintained, exposing the region to increased risk. In the years since, power companies have invested billions upgrading computer systems and cutting back vegetation.
- The need for more stringent reporting and regulation: At the time, there were not sufficient systems in place to ensure the safe, successful completion of each task. Today, once-voluntary reliability standards have become mandatory.