Saturday, January 17, 2004

August 2003 Blackout(PDF) The investigation into the blackout continues, and while the sequence of events are understood and documented, the understanding of just what happened, is still being debated. This article from Baseline Magazine, adds an interesting twist. One of the heroes from the blackout was American Electric Power, who has been spending money upgrading their systems and network infrastructure over the years. So while the other electric companies have to contend with old electromechanical relays, AEP has been using digital relays collect more information, and makes decisions to protect its network by rerouting power, shutting down plants, etc. In the events leading up to the collapse of the network, AEP's relays reacted in sub-seconds, rerouting power and shutting down plants to protect its network. The unfortunate thing, some analysts are contending, is that AEP's smarts may have been dumb, and may have led to the escalation of the network outage. Problem? Well, the other networks don't necessarily use digital relays or automatic computer diagnostics and control -- and, even those that do, would have been in trouble, because the networks don't communicate to each other -- relays to talk across networks. Sounds familiar? Okay -- let me help -- think of how worms or DOS attacks propagate on the internet -- now think of what would happen if the computers that route and control traffic on the internet didn't communicate with each other, and didn't act collectively to protect the entire internet -- think of what a blackout that would be. Now think of how the power companies would benefit from more communication across networks. There may still have been a blackout -- but maybe not as severe.

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