History Repeats Itself? Blackout Apparently Caused by One Employee

Downtown is dark after a massive blackout hit Southern California in San Diego | Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

Millions of people are affected by a massive blackout in Arizona, Southern California (large portions of San Diego, Riverside and Orange counties) and Mexico that occurred Thursday afternoon with restoration of power for some expected as late at this weekend. At first, no reason was given to why a swath of the southwest was darkened, but Arizona's main electric utility, APS, said it was them. Or more specifically, one employee.

"The outage appears to be related to a procedure an APS employee was carrying out in the North Gila substation, which is located northeast of Yuma," explained a press release from the utility. "Operating and protection protocols typically would have isolated the resulting outage to the Yuma area. The reason that did not occur in this case will be the focal point of the investigation into the event, which already is underway."

If this sounds familiar, let's rewind six years, almost to the date. On the afternoon of September 12th, 2005 (it was a Monday), Los Angeles was struck by massive power outage, crumbling traffic and worrying officials who were just warned a day prior about a threat to the city from Al Qaeda.

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No, it was not an act of war, but was a mistake at the hands of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power employees. According to the LA Times back then, "the outage occurred when workers cut through wires while installing a monitoring system at an electrical transmitting station in Toluca Lake" (other reports indicated a sole employee in the event). Then came the ripple affect, with threats of overloading a transmission station and two electrical generating plants, which in turn prompted the utility to shut down the plants, causing a loss of power available to customers. Fortunately, the outage did not last too long.

"This strikes me as something under the category of unbelievably bad luck, where you cut one line and have that kind of cascading effect," Bob Finkelstein, executive director of the Utility Reform Network in San Francisco, told the Times in 2005.

As more on today's blackout comes to light, will we be hearing similar statements about the vulnerability of the electric grid?

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