Yesterday, my wife the professor set out for work… and was back in less than half an hour. Why? Because the power was out at the university, and the reason was that a student who was texting while driving lost control of his car and ran into the electric power distribution transformer. The immediate result was that the entire university lost power for more than half a day, but because the transformer is actually connected to the music building, the university public works crews could shunt power to the rest of the campus, but repairs to the music building’s electric distribution system may take several days, perhaps a week. In the meantime, even without power, the building is effectively shut except for emergency access, because all the locks are electronic.
Texting while driving strikes again, and while this comparatively small accident injured only one driver and shut down a small-to-mid-sized university for half a day, the fact that all the doors are electronically actuated underscores the growing reliance of everything in society on electronics and electric power.
A far larger problem occurred early Monday morning when apparently the failure of a piece of electronic equipment at Delta’s headquarters triggered a power failure and crashed the entire computer system and grounded the airline’s flights for hours, causing more than 600 flights to be canceled and some 3,000 or more to be delayed. Delta said it didn’t know why the power outage hadn’t brought all the back-up systems on line.
And that wasn’t the first airline computer problem. A month ago Southwest airlines had to delay and/or cancel some 2,000 flights due to a computer system glitch.
These kinds of events point out the vulnerability of the United States to power outages and computer system crashes, and, frankly, the fact that it appears that we just might need to be doing more as a society to safeguard and back up both our power sources and our electronic information networks and security systems.
Perhaps some businesses are, but it appears that the cost to Delta from the latest outage/crash is going to cost quite a bit more than up-grading and improving back-up systems would have… and now back-up costs will still be incurred. From what I’ve observed of the local power company here in Utah, they’re still playing roulette with their placement of spare transformers and the like, suggesting that the efforts of electric power system providers leave quite a bit to be desired.
But then, maximizing current profits takes precedence over everything, even long-term profitability – or even survival – just as the immediate pleasure of texting appears to take precedence over safety… and even survival.
NOTE: The latest word from the university is that the damage was so extensive that it will likely cost at least several hundred thousand dollars to replace the equipment, and take six months to a year to obtain a permanent replacement transformer/distributor. In the meantime, the university is operating on a mix of a back-up generator and “temporary” re-wiring.