Feeds

IT Failures In The Great US Blackout

Feeling powerless

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

The essential guide to IT transformation

A report issued by a panel of US Government and Power Industry officials has placed the blame for the largest power outage in North American history primarily on computer and human failures, writes Robin Bloor of Bloor Research. FirstEnergy of Ohio and the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, the regional agency with responsibility for overseeing FirstEnergy are roundly criticized.

According to the report, the cascade of failures were caused in part by the failure of FirstEnergy to maintain transmission lines by trimming trees near the power lines. The problem began when an active power line was shorted to earth by a tree. When power lines are heavily active, the wires heat up and sag which may be what happened. However this should not have cascaded into a wider crisis.

As the crisis unfolded, a computer program that should have set alarms off in FirstEnergy's control room failed. Consequently the computer system itself failed and then the back-up/disaster recovery system failed. Consequently, operators in the control room had no clear idea of what was happening. According to the report, FirstEnergy's computer maintenance staff failed to tell the control room of the failure for over an hour. FirstEnergy disputes, this saying that the control room staff actually informed the computer staff of the failure. Meanwhile Midwest I.S.O. was having trouble with its "state estimator", a computer program that reports on whether the electricity grid is in trouble. According to the report, a technician turned the program off, tried to fix it, forgot to turn it back on and then went to lunch.

There is no mention in the report of whether any of these failures were caused or contributed to by the MSBlast worm/virus which was active at the time that the blackout occurred. However it is unlikely that it would be mentioned. Computer systems within the North American energy grid are supposed to be secure and a failure of security is, after all, just another failure of a system. There has been some suggestion on the Web that MSBlast was a contributory factor or even the prime cause of the blackout. The report does say that conditions on the grid were not abnormal when the cascade of failure began.

In any event it is clear that computer system failure was the heart of the problem and given the estimated billions of dollars costs to businesses from the blackout, it seems certain that IT audit and compliance will now be strongly enforced. Quite rightly so.

© IT-Analysis.com

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Pay to play: The hidden cost of software defined everything
Enter credit card details if you want that system you bought to actually be useful
Shoot-em-up: Sony Online Entertainment hit by 'large scale DDoS attack'
Games disrupted as firm struggles to control network
HP busts out new ProLiant Gen9 servers
Think those are cool? Wait till you get a load of our racks
Silicon Valley jolted by magnitude 6.1 quake – its biggest in 25 years
Did the earth move for you at VMworld – oh, OK. It just did. A lot
VMware's high-wire balancing act: EVO might drag us ALL down
Get it right, EMC, or there'll be STORAGE CIVIL WAR. Mark my words
Forrester says it's time to give up on physical storage arrays
The physical/virtual storage tipping point may just have arrived
prev story

Whitepapers

Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up distributed data
Eliminating the redundant use of bandwidth and storage capacity and application consolidation in the modern data center.
The essential guide to IT transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIOs automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.