IT Role Cited in Blackout

By Brian Fonseca  |  Posted 2004-04-19 Print this article Print

The worst electric power failure in U.S. history could have been avoided in part through better business continuity planning and IT management, according to a recent report.

The worst electric power failure in U.S. history could have been avoided in part through better business continuity planning and IT management, according to a recent report.

The U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force in its final report, issued this month, placed a great deal of the blame for the Aug. 14, 2003, blackout that hit some 50 million customers in seven states and Ontario on FirstEnergy Corp.

In the report, the task force said "inadequate situational awareness" at FirstEnergy in part contributed to the blackouts beginnings. Along with industry-specific problems, investigators said faulty software and control room procedures at FirstEnergy led to an alarm system failure.

Investigators offered 46 recommendations to prevent another widespread plunge into darkness.

Task force offers IT recommendations

  • Develop and deploy IT management procedures
  • Develop corporate-level IT security governance and strategies
  • Implement controls to manage system health, network monitoring and incident management
  • Improve IT diagnostic capabilities
  • Assess IT risk and vulnerability at scheduled intervals
  • Although FirstEnergy officials took exception to some findings in the report, the company said it is moving forward to enhance its reliability as part of the interconnected electric grid system. "There was much more going on than some downed power lines and computer system problems in Ohio," said FirstEnergy spokeswoman Kristen Baird in Akron, Ohio.

    Baird said FirstEnergy will have a new computer monitoring and computer management system operational at its command center by June. The company also has added more staff to examine modeled and forecasted data.

    Experts said many IT operations could be in jeopardy when they fail to consider the potential impact of software and hardware additions on business continuity or disaster recovery plans already in place.

    "When firms go to recover, they generally [havent factored in] change management on a daily basis, so they have mixed applications, mixed levels of hardware, network infrastructure, and theyre not on the same page," said Michael Croy, director of business continuity at IT consulting company Forsythe Technology Inc., in Skokie, Ill.

    "When you look at the bottom line of what happened with FirstEnergy, I think thats a prime example of how [business continuity] is not an IT issue, its a business issue," Croy said.

    Check out eWEEK.coms Database Center at for the latest database news, views and analysis. Be sure to add our database news feed to your RSS newsreader or My Yahoo page:  
    Brian Fonseca is a senior writer at eWEEK who covers database, data management and storage management software, as well as storage hardware. He works out of eWEEK's Woburn, Mass., office. Prior to joining eWEEK, Brian spent four years at InfoWorld as the publication's security reporter. He also covered services, and systems management. Before becoming an IT journalist, Brian worked as a beat reporter for The Herald News in Fall River, Mass., and cut his teeth in the news business as a sports and news producer for Channel 12-WPRI/Fox 64-WNAC in Providence, RI. Brian holds a B.A. in Communications from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

    Submit a Comment

    Loading Comments...
    Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters

    Rocket Fuel