Editorial: Power outage should spur new upgrades

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 15, 2003

The power outages in the eastern United States may seem far away, but the largest blackout in the nation’s history could provide important lessons that apply to all of us, especially in a time of a heightened threat of terrorism.

In this case, terrorism was quickly ruled out as a cause; rather, more run-of-the-mill problems like an out-of-date system and high summer demand seem to be major contributors that allowed the outage to become so widespread.

The blackout will draw new attention to a national energy system that many say needs major upgrades, which have been slow in coming because of the cost and local opposition by people who don’t want new power equipment near their homes.

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With Congress already getting involved, the odds are good that pressure will build to modernize the system. Of course, it’s incredibly complicated, with thousands of interconnected power stations forming a nationwide grid and a delicate balance. But if upgrades can be made, it will leave us better prepared not only to prevent power outages, but to keep them from spreading. We know terrorists may target the country’s energy infrastructure, and upgrading it could make it more resistant to attacks.

In addition, in places like Cleveland and its suburbs, where the loss of power has cut off water supplies, and New York City, where people were trapped on subways and locked out of hotel rooms that couldn’t operate electric card-key readers, the blackout will give rise to new contingency plans to handle temporary loss of power. In the end, that will be a good thing and will leave major cities better prepared to deal with future problems.