By Andrew Rafferty
While the reasons for the 34-minute power outage during Sunday’s Super Bowl remain largely unknown, advocates for a smarter energy grid say it is the latest example of why the nation needs desperately to invest in its electricity infrastructure.
The blackout in New Orleans, coupled with the recent prolonged outages in New York and New Jersey caused by Hurricane Sandy, have put on display for the world how vulnerable America can be to losing its lights. Experts say it is a vulnerability that could have potentially crippling effects.
“The grid has all these parts where accidents can occur, and many accidents have the potential to create widespread problems,” said Susan Tierney, co-author of a National Research Council report that details the flaws in how the country gets its power.
She likened it to the nation’s interstate system, with main arteries and smaller back roads, so interconnected that a problem is rarely isolated.
The National Research Council report, completed in 2007 but declassified by the Department of Homeland Security last November, warns that a coordinated strike on the electric grid could have devastating effects on the American economy and psyche.
The non-partisan report said: “If carried out in a carefully planned way, by people who knew what they were doing, such an attack could deny large regions of the country access to bulk system power for weeks or even months. An event of this magnitude and duration could lead to turmoil, widespread public fear, and an image of helplessness that would play directly into the hands of the terrorists.”
Along with the physical damage and darkness, an attack on the nation’s electrical grid could cause, the biggest impact could be devastating financially, according to Tierney.
“Almost every aspect of our economy is touched by electricity, from banking to hospitals to world markets,” she said. “The worst case scenario could be devastating.”