8 Years since the Eastern Seaboard Blackout - Has it Been that Long?

Published: 2011-08-15
Last Updated: 2011-08-17 10:07:21 UTC
by Rob VandenBrink (Version: 1)
3 comment(s)


The Eastern Seaboard power blackout that occurred in 2003 (started at 4:10 on Aug 14, 2003, with the recovery varying by region) was a milestone in many of our lives. Not only was it full of personal consequences - I can remember my wife calling me in a panic as I was driving home, but it had some severe business and societal impacts, and changed how we view service interruptions in IT.

The blackout forced many businesses to seriously consider what an interruption in basic services could cost the organization, and also to consider how to do business without various services.  In short, we now do Disaster Recovery Planning (DRP) and Business Continuity Planning (BCP) a lot more, and a lot more rigorously than we did pre-2003.

The blackout also forced us as a society to consider just how critical our "Critical Infrastructure" is, and how long it had been since it was last looked at closely (post WWII in a lot of cases).  It also forced us to look at security in a whole new light - the electrical grid had been built on a "we trust our neighbours" model, which was one of the root problems that made the 2003 event so wide-spread.  Most utilities are now a lot more self-contained, or at least aware of the "good fences make good neighbours" design approach these days.

We're a lot more aware now of just how complex our utility infrastructure is now, we've seen first hand what happens when the power goes off, and how complex it was to get the power back on after a widespread hit. 

While NERC (North American Electric Reliability Council) has been around since 1968, the power outage was one of the catalysts in re-formulating it as The North American Electric Reliability Corporation, and re-writing the Critical Infrastructure Protection (NERC CIP) regulations in 2006.

Above all, to me the 2003 blackout illustrates just how short our memory is.  We had a power hit that affected New York City in 1977 (which I remember), and a much larger Northeast area event back in 1965 (I was 3 then, so before my time).  I guess as a society we're a lot like my cat - bad things need to take place a few times at least before it sinks in.  Hopefully, now that we've got critical infrastructure standards and particularly security written into regulations and law, it'll stick.  Also, now that we've got some momentum in BCP and DR planning, the private sector will follow along.

We'd love to hear your comments, either from your experiences during any of the larger power problems, or how they've affected your organization.



Rob VandenBrink

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