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Subject: Fw: more on nation's worst blackout
Date: Thu, 20 Nov 2003 10:27:32 -0800

That ups the indicator level. There's a very good probability it was direct interference by the "bad guys".
Was two things: (1) a probe, to see if the system recognized it had deliberately been hit, and (2) to see how much responsive damage and financial rearrangement would be done.
Computer Glitch Played Part in Blackout
Wed Nov 19, 8:09 PM ET
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By BRAD FOSS, AP Business Writer

WASHINGTON - Of all the failures that occurred at Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corp. just before the nation's worst blackout on Aug. 14, a malfunction in a warning system appears to have had the greatest impact.

FirstEnergy employees failed to take steps that could have isolated its own system's problems after three power lines short-circuited because the utility's data-monitoring and alarm system wasn't working, according to a U.S.-Canadian task force that spent three months investigating the causes of the blackout.

Without a functioning emergency management system or the knowledge that it had failed, the company's system operators "remained unaware that their electrical system condition was beginning to degrade," the report said.

"Unknowingly," the report continued, "they used the outdated system condition information they did have to discount information from others about growing system problems."

Not only did the software that controls audible and visual alarms stop working at 2:14 p.m. EDT, but about a half hour later, two servers supporting the emergency system failed, too. More than an hour would pass after that before anyone in FirstEnergy's control room would realize that the software General Electric's GE Harris XA21 system wasn't working.

Task force members said it remains unclear whether the software malfunctioned or if FirstEnergy's computers had difficulty running it that day.

"There was a great deal of information that was not available to our operators because of our computer problems," FirstEnergy spokesman Ralph DiNicola said. However, he added, "we can't speculate what things would have been like had we not experienced" the computer troubles.

The task force also said in its report that while there were computer worms and viruses affecting the Internet and Internet-connected systems before and during the blackout, it does not believe these were contributing factors to FirstEnergy's problems.

FirstEnergy's information technology staff belatedly became aware of the problem and tried to fix it. In fact, they thought they had shortly after 3 p.m. at which point two of the three power lines had already tripped.

"Just as you may have to reboot your desktop computer, which often cures computing problems, that's what they did," said Jimmy Glotfelty, a member of the government task force that investigated the blackout. "They had the indication that they fixed the alarm problem, but that was erroneous."

"They did not adequately test the system after the reboot to be sure they had fixed it," said David Meyer, another task force member.

Hoff Stauffer, a power transmission analyst with Cambridge Energy Research Associates, said that getting to the bottom of the Aug. 14 blackout will require further investigation into what caused FirstEnergy's monitoring and alarm technology to fail.

"You can't know who's at fault until you know what went wrong with the computer system," he said.

Indeed, the report says that the task force is still attempting to determine "the nature and scope" of the hardware and software failures.