It’s a good bet that residents of Northern Virginia got a little nervous when news of the great Blackout of 2003 started to shut down cities from New York to Detroit on Thursday afternoon.
A blackout scattered over such a wide area, affecting so many people, was reminiscent of what we might have expected during the Y2K scare a few years ago.
Workers still in Washington, D.C., feared the worst as they prepared to exit the city by car or train on Thursday. It was worse at the airports where delays and cancellations ruined travel plans. But that’s as bad as it got here.
Thoughts of terrorism also flashed through people’s minds as news reports of the blackout first spread. The thought of “when’s it going to hit us?” probably had more than a few people nervous.
Luckily, the blackout never came.
But it could be a preview of things to come.
Though there is no concrete evidence of what triggered the blackout, experts are focusing on the fragile state of our national power grids. The vulnerability of these networks which deliver power to each home and business in the United States has people wondering when the next great blackout will occur.
We all take electricity for granted… until the power goes out during a thunderstorm or on a hot summer day. No one ever considers the health of our power grid while the lights are on. It’s similar to the way many people don’t take simple car maintenance seriously until they are stranded on the side of the highway.
The Department of Homeland Security almost immediately ruled out terrorism as a cause for Thursday’s power failure, but it is hard to rule that out if no one knows the true cause.
By Friday afternoon, Hillary Clinton was blaming the Republicans and Rush Limbaugh was blaming Democrats for America’s biggest blackout.
Former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said it best when he described the U.S. as “a superpower with a third-world electrical grid.” President Bush also used the occasion to note that America has to come to grips with its outdated electrical delivery infrastructure.
The problems with Thursday’s blackout were not caused by Democrats or Republicans. It’s an American problem that Americans will have to solve. Hopefully, the big “Blackout of 2003” will be the wakeup call America needed.
If not, Northern Virginians could be the next to experience the difficulties of a major power outage. It’s not fun.