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Telephone calls show blackout confusion

By Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 4, 2003

WASHINGTON - During the hour before the nation's worst blackout, engineers in the control center of an Ohio utility struggled to figure out why transmission lines were failing and complained that a computer breakdown was making it difficult, transcripts of telephone communications released Wednesday show.

An engineer at the Midwest grid managing organization asked engineers at the Ohio utility, FirstEnergy Corp., to explain why they had not responded to a line outage reported earlier and asked that they find out what was going on.

"We have no clue. Our computer is giving us fits, too," replied a FirstEnergy technician identified as Jerry Snickey.

The exchange was in 650 pages of transcripts of telephone communications provided by MISO to House Energy and Commerce Committee investigators and made public by the committee Wednesday at the conclusion of the first day of hearings into the blackout.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham told the House panel that it was too early to tell what precisely caused the blackout.

"We won't jump to conclusions. Our investigation will be thorough and objective," he said.

"A system that relies on courtesy calls (to warn of power line problems) is clearly outdated," Ohio Gov. Bob Taft told the congressional hearing, the first to examine the blackout.

An estimated 50-million people were affected and the costs in lost wages, productivity and other disruptions has been put into the billions of dollars.

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