The Blackout Should Have Been Prevented

By the time power returned to many of the 50 million people that lost electricity during North America's largest blackout in history, many were already trying to figure out just how this major inconvenience for utilities customers could have occurred. Given that the technology exists to monitor and alert companies to possible large-scale outages, the fact that the blackout was able to become so widespread is equally alarming. "The outage would not have been propagated across such a wide area if information technology were used properly," says Jill Feblowitz, service director of the energy practice at AMR Research. She adds that investment in reliability assurance, not just on easier access to the national grid, needs to increase to ensure a more stable energy system for the nation. The most immediate solution that needs to be put in place to safeguard against a repeat of these events is more active alerting systems, according to Feblowitz. Using analytics solutions utilities providers can then make quick decisions on what to do in this type of emergency situation. "Some areas, such as New England, had these technologies in place and were able to isolate themselves from the grid and avoid a blackout," she says. "It's a very complex process, and the pieces of the needed technology are there, but they need to be put together in the right way," Feblowitz adds. From a customer perspective Feblowitz says that what need to be in place are better notification systems for those customers--like hospitals with life-support patients--who could face serious danger in the event of a power loss. In places like California, she notes, where rolling blackouts are common, a system to do this is in place, thus it is not impossible for the whole country to set up alert systems for critical customers. Feblowitz notes that the Blackout of 2003 will undoubtedly give rise to new regulations for visibility into the fail-safe equipment and ways to monitor those systems that are monitoring the grid. Technology strategies like Enterprise Asset Management are in use at some companies to do just that, she says. "Greater connectivity and information availability is not the enemy," Feblowitz says. "In fact, there are a number of systems integrators, application vendors, and service companies that have developed very robust cyber-security protocols that are less vulnerable than most SCADA systems. The mandate is clear: Investment in the infrastructure for reliability is top priority."
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