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Summary and Comments

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Category: 

Power_Grid

Date: 

1998-03-17 19:36:08

Subject: 

BUSINESS WEEK Feedback: Utilities at Risk.

  Link:

http://www.businessweek.com/premium/12/b3570037.htm

Comment: 

Word will trickle out: the West is at risk because of the power grid. The thought of a permanent breakdown of society is too fearful for most people to contemplate. But what would eight weeks without electrical power do to a modern city? It would be far worse than Auckland, which has some power.

If every city loses power, the grid dies. That's the threat. It's systemic.

The letter-writer says: "I keep having nightmares about what it will be like in Boston, Chicago, or Minneapolis during January in 2000 if there is no power. People may die because of this glitch and our industries' inadequate response to it."

People may die. Yes, indeed: about half the population of the West if electrical power goes off and stays off for two months. If it goes off for two months, it won't come back on in our lifetimes. Power generation today relies on power generation. If the circle is broken, the West will collapse. We are totally dependent on electricity.

Could such a power breakdown happen? The experts say they don't know, as BUSINESS WEEK reported (March 3). This BUSINESS WEEK reader is bothered by this, as he should be.

But home power generators are still available. So is cheap diesel fuel. So is propane. Most people do not see what could happen. For them, THE TRIGGER POINT is just another third-rate movie.

* * * * * * *

I am a software professional who has been aware of this problem for almost 10 years. It is fascinating to watch how the conventional wisdom is slowly changing. Each article I read is becoming less optimistic, more realistic.

I deal with software systems used by corporations. Thus I was horrified to learn that there are so many problems in so-called embedded systems--those control systems in which software is loaded into computer chips at the time of their manufacture. Embedded systems are at the heart of most modern industrial control systems, including those of the nation's power grid. The most frightening part of the article was the quote from Charlie Siebenthal, who said it will be six months before the power industry knows the extent of the problem.

This means that electrical utilities will have less than 18 months to fix the problems they find--which is cutting it way too close. I keep having nightmares about what it will be like in Boston, Chicago, or Minneapolis during January in 2000 if there is no power. People may die because of this glitch and our industries' inadequate response to it.

Bob Hermann

West Chester, Pa.

Link: 

http://www.businessweek.com/premium/12/b3570037.htm

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