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Featured Staged Blackouts

  1. Sep 11, 2017 #26
    Our family has made a habit of having backups and redundancies for critical systems for a couple decades now.

    But I hate to see fools viewing services like electricity as anything more than a relationship with the customer with the main goal to meet customer needs and desires. Trying to "teach" customers a lesson by shutting off their power is a fool's errand. I hope they would teach the power companies a lesson in return by breaking all the monopolies.

    A good company encourages customers to voluntarily understand and plan for interruptions in their service.
     
  2. Sep 11, 2017 #27

    anorlunda

    Staff: Mentor

    Yes, but can you cite a case from anywhere in the world where that succeeded? In my OP, I cited the case of inadvertent outages hardening the population of Mumbai.

    Don't forget the other example of staged GPS, or cell, or Internet blackouts. Many people other than me have have decried the way we so thoughtlessly acquire dependencies on such things. Avoidable dependencies. Dependencies that make those services juicy targets for terrorism or cyberwar.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 11, 2017
  3. Sep 11, 2017 #28

    Averagesupernova

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    How can you say it has not? Do those things make the news? Do you think news would cover how thousands of subscribers have gotten by just fine in the event of a blackout? No. They are going to cover the problems people are having because they have no electricity.
     
  4. Sep 11, 2017 #29
    Lots of folks in S Louisiana have generators and plans for extended power outages. When we lived in rural Michigan, most families had plans for heat in the event of extended power outages even if they didn't have backup electricity. Independence and self-reliance tend to be higher in rural areas than in suburbia and urban areas. Drive around rural Michigan some time. Take note of all the homes with huge propane tanks, cord after cord of firewood, or a whole winter worth of coal. They are ready for a week or two without electricity.
     
  5. Sep 11, 2017 #30

    anorlunda

    Staff: Mentor

    Look at recent hurricane news coverage There have been a lot of words about readiness, apart from news of the damage. So, that's a flaw in your argument about news.

    I say it from 45 years of reading accounts of blackouts similar to the one quoted in #8. You can read a fair number of such accounts yourself1985-present at http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/ Consider from #8 the example of a civil defense warning system that failed to work. Who could imagine that civil defense didn't plan for blackouts, or didn't test? Nevertheless when the time came it didn't work. There is no substitute for experience.

    But you raise an interesting point and looking at it another way. Say that X fraction of the people consider blackouts to be of small consequence, and (1-X) find it disastrous. What is the fraction X we find tolerable? I don't think any of us could answer that. I may have lost my winter home yesterday in Irma, yet I'm sure that more than 0.99 of Florida homeowners escaped with no damage, or injury. Does that make Irma inconsequential? Everyone is entitled to their own opinion on that.

    But I have been looking at it from a different view -- as a question of public health. If the public has anxiety from fear that cyber terrorists can bring us to our knees by attacking the power grid, then we have a public health program. In my mind, staged blackouts would primarily be aimed at bolstering public confidence, and only secondarily to change the value of X.
     
  6. Sep 11, 2017 #31
    Indeed I think this is the crux of the problem when we approach the discussion from the standpoint of negative impact to life and livelihood this staged outage policy would precipitate. If it's so much as a car wreck because the traffic lights went out someone is going to point the finger of blame at the scheduled event.

    From a purely economical standpoint it's actually pretty easy to provide an answer. It's the value that we as a society are willing to pay out for relief to those subjected to the disastrous. One could say the return on this investment is to ferret out unpreparedness knowing that in the case of a genuine emergency the cost is paid out anyway, with interest, often in a time when many other uncontrollable circumstances make it a battle for resources. That may be a harder number to nail down.
     
  7. Sep 11, 2017 #32

    Averagesupernova

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    My view falls along the same lines as @Dr. Courtney . Many people in parts of the country are prepared for power outages. Some of them routinely or at least semi routinely have them. Those are the people that other folks can learn from. The news media typically concentrates on the 'bad' news as opposed to the good. Say all you want about current coverage of the hurricane, the general trend is always the same, more coverage of bad than good. So with this in mind you cannot say that nowhere in the world has a utilities advice to it's customers to be prepared ever worked. Pretty sure many folks have gotten by just fine and no one knew any different.
     
  8. Sep 11, 2017 #33

    Dale

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    That is interesting. Do you have a specific source for this cost benefit claim or is it just a gut feeling? This seems like something that could benefit from some actuaries actually calculating things. I wonder how much cost/benefit other drills produce.

    I think this may be a hard case to make quantitatively. A fire is very dangerous, so small increases in preparedness can be valuable. A power outage is only mildly dangerous, so small increases in preparedness will be correspondingly less valuable. On the other hand, power outages are more common and affect more people than fires.

    Maybe something more like the "stop drop and roll" campaign would be more effective than drills. Just some basic public education, e.g. Teach drivers what to do at an intersection with unpowered lights.
     
  9. Sep 12, 2017 #34

    anorlunda

    Staff: Mentor

    Does anyone see the irony? As we debate in this thread, 6 million people in Florida are being subjected to an unplanned experiment in survival without power. I'm sure many stories will come out of that. Just think if the event had been in Quebec in winter with -20 to -40 temperature as @256bits mentioned in #22.

    To my knowledge it has never been studied. Indeed, the keep the lights on culture in the industry is so strong that I held back these opinions for more than 30 years in fear of instant dismissal if I voiced them while employed in the industry. But I see in cybersecurity and anti-terror circles that the word resilience is mentioned more and more often. Perhaps eventually it will mature to consider the public's resilience.

    Of course a plan for staged blackouts must minimize harm. The earliest planned events would be limited in scope and given wide publicity in advance. In fact, make an analogy to Y2K. If we had 3 years advance notice of a staged blackout, and if every business and government and individuals were pressured to certify blackout-readiness to their stockholders and insurance companies before the event, then much of the training value would achieved, even if the actual event was canceled at the last moment. That was immensely successful in the case of Y2K because of the pressure to not just claim readiness but to certify it by an independent source. That leans in the direction of less drastic means suggested by @russ_watters and @Dale.
     
  10. Sep 21, 2017 #35
    My first thought is I love this idea. I agree entirely that in America we take for granted luxuries that in other parts of the world are not nearly as common. We have a tendency to treat these systems as infallible until something happens to them. It's a form of self-denial that we see across a wide range of areas where the following conversation occurs:

    -What if X happens?
    -It won't
    -Well it's not a zero-probability event so it could happen; if it does what's your plan?
    -It won't
    -So you have no plan?
    -It just won't happen

    This sort of self-blinding attitude ultimately results in mass panic when Event X does happen. So I'm all for preparedness. The only issue I see is that with staging blackouts you can't notify people ahead of time, and there are emergency services that require power. You would have to be 100% certain that the backup power supplies for places like hospitals were functioning before you pulled the plug.
     
  11. Sep 21, 2017 #36

    anorlunda

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    You could start with staged blackouts given looks of warning and publicity.

    The goal is not necessarily surprise, but more to let them discover that things they believed O.K. Are not. If people test their own preparedness in advance, that's fine.

    Once again, compare it to Y2K. After Y2K, namely on 9/11/2001, businesses were much better prepared than they were in 1998.
     
  12. Oct 27, 2017 #37
    Id say stage drills wherever possible but keep the power on. In areas that can safely be in an actual blackout just turn off electronics and practice without power but still have the power available so if something dangerous happens such as a blizzard or storm you can just flick on your power. Basically just have speakers or something to tell people its time for a drill so if it is safe to do so they will take part in the drill but if not then they are not forced to. You can have officers and other emergency personnel going door to door to ensure people are partaking in the drill if it is safe to do so. You can also try to spread the importance of the drills through ads and such so that people will partake in it. Although the first few drills will certainly have a lack of participation so itll take a while before it becomes effective. You can also make sure it is illegal to not participate unless its not safe to.
     
  13. Oct 27, 2017 #38

    anorlunda

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    Yes an no.

    The most publicized case after Hurricane Irma was the death of 14 people in a nursing home near Miami after the power went out. Every nursing home in Florida was required to have an evacuation plan, but apparently the employees of this nursing home did not know that they should have triggered execution of the plan. The type of drill you describe might have exposed that flaw.

    On the other hand, consider the following. At a congressional hearing, I heard a congresswoman say, "I don't care if the power is out. All I care about is that my ATM works." She had never stopped to think that ATMs need power, and that in a power outage people run out of money (see the current news stories about Puerto Rico). Drills of the type you describe only practice the things people expect to happen (by definition, you can't drill for the things you didn't think of). They do nothing to make people become aware of their misconceptions.

    In theory, you could learn to drive a car by reading a book, but we require actual driving experience before giving a license.
     
  14. Oct 29, 2017 #39
    I think an issue to consider is crime. What if someone takes advantage of the power outage in order to commit some illegal act? If so will someone try to hold the power companies culpable?
     
  15. Oct 29, 2017 #40

    anorlunda

    Staff: Mentor

    That's certainly a possibility. The solution is to have government order the power companies to perform the drills. Government can never be held responsible for anything. They call it "sovereign immunity."
     
  16. Oct 29, 2017 #41
    Here's a thought for you...

    When there's a power outage, folk usually start calling on their cell-phones, clogging the network. That's if the outage hasn't taken down the masts, too...

    A close relative has a medical 'Aid-Call' system. Press wrist button or neck pendant, the base-station dials the call-centre for help. She also has several DECT cordless phones around the house. They double as intercoms, which can be really, really handy...

    Took a while to get the info, but the 'AidCall' base-station has a small back-up battery, good for 8~24 hours, depending on use. It shares the land-line with the DECT base-station, which is house-line powered. No mains, no intercom. We knew that, which is why there's an old-fashioned corded phone beside the base-station...

    After several power-trips, eventually traced to 'creepage' in a splashed jug-kettle, I installed a modest, wall-hung UPS unit. About the size of two shoe-boxes, its power-strip keeps the 'Aid-Call' base-station charged, the DECT base-station on-line, a hand-set charged, a couple of LED night-lights and a rechargeable torch ready for navigation, breaker location and resetting...

    Although there isn't one now, a USB charger could be plugged there in moments, to keep a cell-phone, tablet, MP3 player or such alive....

    The cost ? A modest 'Table for Two' with a bottle of 'House Red', then coffee to finish...
     
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