Several media sources noted that the current high temperatures led to high loads that threatened the integrity of the power grid, and that it was a malfunction of the grid in response to high loads that caused the 2003 crisis. Still most were in a rush to note that the similarities ended there because power lines that sagged into untrimmed trees really caused the outage. Of course, that's true as far as it goes. But what caused the power lines to sag in the first place? And wasn't it high summer demand that robbed the grid of its ability to respond to isolated outages that caused the initial outage the reason that the blackout became so widespread. As far as I am concerned, the northeastern states dodged a bullet this week. I am sure that utility improvements played a critical role.
What remains seared in my memory is the vulnerability of so many people stuck far away from home or forced to descend many flights of stairs or who lacked water for days. It turned out that we have many more mission-critical systems than we imagined.
In the last year, Mission Critical columnist Peter Funk wrote about a number of applications that are often overlooked when we think mission critical. But surely, we have to consider almost any facility that provides water or HVAC to people or animals as mission critical. In addition. elevators in high rises, water and sewer treatment facilities, many hospital systems, 911 systems, air traffic control, and many other facilities, all before considering the financial and banking systems.
So how many of these systems would be protected in the event of another large-scale power outage? Have we bulked up the electrical distribution system as though it were mission critical? Remember electrical systems can fail temporarily because of mechanical and natural causes or because of sabotage. Or did we just dodge another heat-related bullet?