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OUT OF DARKNESS

When the lights went out

Mario DellOsso ENVS 4440 3.0 Environmental Disasters

Out of Darkness

Introduction
Often blackouts are the result of some technical error or failure that results in an outage which is usually remedied in short order (Hines, Apt, & Talukdar, 2009). Generally outages do not last longer than a few hours. The duration of the disaster often has an effect on the people who are affected (Hines, Apt, & Talukdar, 2009). On August 14, 2003 at approximately 4:00 PM EST the lights went out for nearly 50,000,000 people on the eastern seaboard (Electricity Consumers Resource Council, 2004). The effect of the blackout was drastic affecting a vast majority of critical infrastructure (Public Safety Canada, 2006). The aggregate cost of the blackout was estimated to be somewhere in the ranger of 4.5 to 8.5 billion dollars, including the economic activities lost and the additional costs to government (Electricity Consumers Resource Council, 2004). The blackout had a profound effect on the ability of government to provide basic services to its residents, as well as impacting business. Blackouts serve as important topics of study because they epitomize much of the flawed understanding of disasters and the circumstances that create the conditions that make the disasters possible. This paper seeks the blackout through an open-system analysis, namely the economic, social, and political forces that create and enhance the effects of the 2003 blackout.

Political and Economic Pressures


The electric transmission and generation system underwent drastic changes during the 1990s as part of a broader transition in government-industry relations towards Neo-Liberalism. This took hold in Ontario under the Premier of the time Mike Harris who implemented this through his governments platform, The Common Sense Revolution, which called for deregulation and privatization of many services. One major services was the electricity, which
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saw the commencement of its privatization and deregulation (Swift & Stewart, 2005). One must first examine how the electric system (sometimes referred to as the grid) operates. The generating stations are connected to cities usually via high voltage power lines carrying a large quantity of electricity. The high voltage power lines then innervate cities in a manner where some cities are innervated by multiple high voltage power lines. Cities that have many high voltage power lines are considered hubs; less connected cities are considered nodes. When the association of high voltage transmission lines is not random the structure is considered to be scale-free in that some hubs are more highly integrated. These more highly integrated hubs become ever more important as their loss has the ability to be more drastic causes more outages downstream, a cascade effect (Duenas-Osorio & Mohan Vemuru, 2008). The privatization of electricity calls for operators to provide the cheapest electricity available, often resulting in electricity that must travel some distance to reach the end-user (Woo, King, Tishler, & Chow, 2006). This places additional stress on existing lines to transport electricity as there is no real profit to be made in transmission line construction (Woo, King, Tishler, & Chow, 2006). This encourages further concentration of links creating scale-free networks that adhere to the power law distribution where select number of hubs are highly connected, these form the Achilles heel of the network. As part of the deregulation the various governments developed independent system operators, which are responsible for the managing of power on the electricity grid as well as transmission. In the United States, the East Central Area Reliability Coordination Agreement (ECAR) was responsible for reliability of the members electricity supply systems through coordination of the planning and operation of the members generation and transmission
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facilities. (U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force, 2004) It was composed of the members of the various energy providers operating in the area, each of them with one vote (U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force, 2004). The eighteen employees of ECAR had their salaries, benefits, and pensions managed by Ohio Edison a subsidiary of FirstEnergy (U.S.Canada Power System Outage Task Force, 2004). It is abundantly clear there was a lack of institutional separation between those being regulated and the regulator, in fact some might argue they were one and the same. ECARs board was tasked with making decisions regarding reliability and implementation of the various standards, as one report points out difficult to have an organization whose governed by its members, to find those members inadequate (U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force, 2004). FirstEnergy was permitted to operate using plans and voltage criteria that were well above the allowable levels, however ECAR did not order or advise FirstEnergy to correct these deficiencies (U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force, 2004). It is these sorts of institutional rigidities, failing to take corrective action, which allowed FirstEnergy to operate dangerously under the oversight of ECAR. With privatization comes the pursuit of profit ahead of reliability. This places emphasis on building in a manner that is economically efficient and not necessarily resilient to disruptions. For the same reason that governments fail to implement the effective mitigation and prevention plans, the electricity industry does the same (Canton, 2007). In that, they do not see the value of preventing it, they are willing to gamble. Resiliency is are not quantifiable, as it is impossible to quantify what does not happen. Building resilience does not have retrospective predictability.

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Disaster Incubation
FirstEnergy which is the large energy operator in Ohio was largely blamed for the blackout. It failed to follow basic regulations regarding its operations. This deviance became normalized, and continued to occur attributing to the blackout. One such example of this normalized deviance was their inability to manage the right-of-way established for the transmission lines (U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force, 2004). The company stated in policy that they had implemented a 5-year cycle to their right-of-way management, which is the industry standard (U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force, 2004). However, upon examination of the implementation of such a strategy the company failed to meet requirements, as ultimately the cause of the blackout was the grounding of lines. The subtle inattention to the trees overgrowth went un-remedied. The normalized deviance was not only confined to the growth of trees in the right-of-way, but also in the organizations response to alarms. There were nearly 100 alarms that sounded and went unnoticed or omitted from action by various organizations. FirstEnergy also managed its transmission lines and allowed them to operate at high temperatures, but did so with the notion that they would be cooled by the prevailing winds. FirstEnergy unrealistically accounted for wind speeds that were not typically present, thus cooling did not occur (U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force, 2004). As a result, the transmission lines permutated to be much longer therefore sagging closer to trees nearby allowing for arching and grounding (U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force, 2004). This sort of planning, is endemic of situation where the possibility of disasters is minimized, they have a misplaced optimism as it relates to the risk of such a decision.
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Part of disaster incubation is the inability of an organization to take advice and guidance from those outside the organization. Despite the fact that FirstEnergy receive numerous inquiries and reports of outages, they failed to take any actions to remedy the situation. They effectively ignored the reports of those outside the organization. Between 2:45 and 3:45 American Electric Power (AEP) contacted FirstEnergy about the outage three times, and it was left unfixed (U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force, 2004). FirstEnergy had a number of sources indicating there was a problem with their transmission lines yet they failed to act diligently. FirstEnergy received a number of calls from local residents noting that the power lines were arching or were toughing trees, they failed to take any actions to solve these issues (U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force, 2004).

Sense-Making
The blackout also highlighted the ineffectiveness in the Midwest Independent System Operators (MISO) ability to manage the electricity grid. MISO had no ability to monitor the entire system accurately, it could not easily determine the source of an outage. The transmission lines were coded in such a manner that they would be required to lookup the exact location in another director to determine the location of the outage (U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force, 2004). This design meant that operators at MISO had to examine and synthesis multiple sources of data to determine the source of an outage. This made the handling of information difficult for operators attempting to solve the problem, their sensemaking capabilities were impaired.

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Once actions were taken to correct the problem, FirstEnergy and the other operators were unable to do so because they could not make sense of the multiple sources of information. Their emergency plans were overly vague and did not allow the operators to solve the issues (U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force, 2004). The problem was an illstructured problem, but the operators were attempting to create or search for a solution for a well-structured problem. Even the report examining the disaster states that the solutions and manuals were not clear cut enough, again emphasising the desire to have a well -structured solution to an ill-structured problem.

Cascading Failures
The losses and impact of a blackout largely revolves around interplay of various factors. Losing power is just one consequence; a blackout has the ability to propagate the loss on other systems as cascading effects. This often happens in an unforeseen and unpredictable manner because systems are tightly coupled to each other. This is evident in the blackout when telecommunications were disrupted which caused the failure to report an environmental hazard. Royal Polymer discharged nearly 60 million liters of vinyl chloride into the St. Clair River as a result of their alarm systems losing power (Grey, et al., 2006). This spill went unreported for days as the company had no power to transmit such a report, potentially affecting those living in the Windsor-St. Clair region without their knowledge. There was an advisory that the community should remain indoor, they were captives in their own homes. They also suffered the psychological trauma of being a contaminated community, as now some contaminant had entered them unknowingly.

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Cascading failures also affected residents of Kingston in a unique manner. The City of Kingston was required to resort to the use of boil water advisory as its water pumps had failed, and therefore water could not be purified (Public Safety Canada, 2006). Residents who used electric stoves were unable to boil water due to the lack of electricity. This occurred across the province of Ontario whereby 59 boil water advisories were implemented, again, not feasible for those with electric stoves (Public Safety Canada, 2006). Industries were also affected by the blackout, in that their means of production, their materials, ability to distribute and collect money were all compromised. Given that financial systems heavily rely on computer data systems that were largely inaccessible they were not able to sell their materials as very few had enough cash to purchase (Public Safety Canada, 2006). Many manufactures rely on just-in-time delivery of materials to save on warehousing expenses. This relies on having timely and coordinated deliveries, often orchestrated by computers, with computers down this became impossible (Public Safety Canada, 2006). Emergent complexity is not just found outside the electrical system, but also within it. During the blackout Ontario had to deactivate its nuclear reactors as a safety measure to avoid the potential for a meltdown (Public Safety Canada, 2006). In doing so the reactors had to release heat and water into the environment. With rolling brownouts it became unsafe to restart the reactors when there was a possibility the grid would not be able to accept the electricity and the reactors run the risk of overheating (a meltdown). Since nuclear power represents a large portion of the electricity generated, this became an enigma for operators. Do operators take the risk of bring them online to power those without power, and risk a

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meltdown, or wait and cause more to be in outage longer? It becomes evident that these systems are tightly coupled and have interactive complexity, whereby a failure of one aspect has the propensity to propagate. This exemplifies how the emergent complexity of modern life is often overlooked, in that they have a taken for granted sense of reality.

Environment
The blackout demonstrates how the electrical system is susceptible to environment. The prominent view of the operators is that they are at odds with the environment where they attempt to control the environment. This type of flawed thinking leads to the constant effort to trim trees which in this case failed. It also is seen through how humans treat the extreme heat, which is being drastically exacerbated by global warming. Humans believe that they can control heat and its effects through the use of air conditioning. In doing so, humans rely on technology to solve their ill, technology which requires massive amounts of energy. This energy is largely not carbon neutral and therefore releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This increased carbon dioxide leads to increase temperatures and therefore increasing energy required to deal with the increase heat. A positive feedback loop is created.

Vulnerability
The blackout also demonstrates how often risk associated with a disaster is not evenly distributed amongst the general population. In New York where the vulnerable often rely on public transportation and live in high-rises buildings the effect can be quite clear (Anderson & Bell, 2012). High-rise buildings often encounter higher temperatures rendering the occupants

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more vulnerable. The blackout in New York caused many to die from cardiovascular illnesses indirectly attributed to the extreme heat caused by the inability to provide air conditioning (Anderson & Bell, 2012). The largest segment of fatalities happened to be the elderly, who often live on meager earnings as well as not having the mobility that younger individuals have, thereby making access to food and other services inaccessible. Interruptions to the communications systems (Public Safety Canada, 2006) and emergency services inundated with calls for services (Public Safety Canada, 2006), vulnerable requiring emergency care might not receive assistance in a timely manner.

Conclusion
Electricity operators often mistakenly confining themselves to the world of mediocristan, because blackouts are rare they believe they are competent at avoiding them. They fail to examine blackouts through the extremistan perspective understanding that blackouts can quickly become large-scale disasters with increasing complexity resulting from the cascading effects. They minimize them unnecessarily. Instead, blackouts should be viewed as Black swan events that may be statistically rare, but their effects catastrophic. Despite the fact that the statistics support the notion of decreasing frequency with increasing effects (Hines, Apt, & Talukdar, 2009). In an effort, to curtail such Black swan events operators could shift their focus from large inexpensive power production with a reliance on transmission lines to local renewable energies. In doing so, it would lessen the burden imposed on transmission lines and increase community resilience (O'Brien & Hope, 2009). This is an important view as the electricity

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infrastructure is aging and becoming more susceptible to failure (Amina & Gellings, 2006).This would allow the community to own and operate critical infrastructure. By giving the community as stake in the critical infrastructure they will develop disaster salience, a key factor to empowerment for preparedness (Miller, Adame, & Moore).

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Works Cited
Amina, M. S., & Gellings, C. W. (2006, May-June). The North American power delivery system: Balancing market restructuring and environmental economics with infrastructure security. Energy, pp. 967999. Anderson, B. G., & Bell, M. L. (2012, March). Impact of the August 2003 Power Outage on Mortality in New York, NY. Epidemiology, pp. 189-193. Canton, L. G. (2007). Emergency Management: Concepts and Strategies for Effective Programs. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Inc. Duenas-Osorio, L., & Mohan Vemuru, S. (2008). Cascading Failures in complex infrastructure systems. Structuarl Safety, 0167-4730. Electricity Consumers Resource Council. (2004, Feburary 9). The Economic Impacts of the August 2003 Blackout. Retrieved from Electricity Consumers Resource Council: http://www.elcon.org/Documents/EconomicImpactsOfAugust2003Blackout.pdf Grey, H., Gourd, R., Blaney, J., Schornack, D., Brooks, I., & Olson, A. (2006, July). Report on Spills in the Great Lakes Basin with a Special Focus on the St. ClairDetroit River Corridor. Retrieved from International Joint Commission: http://www.ijc.org/files/publications/ID1594.pdf Hines, P., Apt, J., & Talukdar, S. (2009). Large blackouts in North America: Historical trends and policy implications. Energy Policy, 5249-5259. Miller, C., Adame, B. J., & Moore, S. D. (2013, September). Vested Interst theory and disaster preparedness. Disasters. O'Brien, G., & Hope, A. (2009, July). Localism and energy: Negotiating approaches to embedding resilence in energy systems. Energy Policy, pp. 7550-7558. Public Safety Canada. (2006, August 30). Ontario-U.S. Power Outage Impacts on Critical Infrastructure. Retrieved from Public Safety Canada (Government of Canada): http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/prg/em/_fl/ont-us-power-e.pdf Swift, J., & Stewart, K. (2005). Union Power: The Charged Politics of Electricity in Ontario. Just Labour, V(Winter), 14-22. U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force. (2004, April). Department of Energy. Retrieved from Final Report on the August 14, 2003 Blackout in the United States and Canada: https://reports.energy.gov/BlackoutFinal-Web.pdf Woo, C., King, M., Tishler, A., & Chow, L. (2006). Costs of electricity deregulation. Energy, 747768.

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