Blackout was preventable, probe finds
Task force says 2003 outage not caused by terrorist attack
(CNN) -- Last summer's power outage that plunged parts of eight states and a Canadian province into darkness could have been prevented and was not a terrorist or cyber attack, according to a final report released Monday by an investigative task force.
The task force's co-chairmen -- U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and R. John Efford, Canadian minister of natural resources -- said the group would remain active for another year to push for its recommendations.
The blackout, which started on August 14, was the largest ever to hit the United States. It affected all or most of Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Ontario province.
Power was restored to most localities, including New York City, by the end of the next day, but some places were without electricity for several days.
The task force especially focused on the need for mandatory reliability regulations in the United States and Canada, with government oversight and penalties for noncompliance.
The power industry now has voluntary requirements aimed at preventing blackouts. They are administered by the private North American Electric Reliability Council, which lacks the ability to hand down penalties.
Many reliability rules were ignored during the outages, the task force said.
"The report makes clear that this blackout could have been prevented and that immediate actions must be taken in both the United States and Canada to ensure that our electric system is more reliable," the chairmen said in a statement.
After the task force issued its interim report in November, subcommittee members continued to examine the possibility of terrorist instigators, the report said.
While acknowledging al Qaeda claims of responsibility, there was no proof of the group's involvement, it concluded.
As it did in its interim report, the task force largely blamed FirstEnergy Corp., based in Akron, Ohio, for the electrical failures on August 14, faulting the company's lack of communication, faulty equipment and inadequate training.
The task force said three power line failures in Ohio should have been contained by FirstEnergy operators.
As a result, the outage cascaded, eventually cutting off electricity to 50 million people.
"The FE operators received pertinent information [August 14] ... but did not recognize the emerging problems from the clues offered. This pertinent information included calls such as that from FE's eastern control center asking about possible line trips," the report said.
It took only seven minutes, the task force said, for interruptions on the high-voltage system to spread from the Cleveland-Akron area of Ohio across much of the northeast United States and Canada.
FirstEnergy admitted a few days after the power failures that it lost three of its own transmission lines and one it co-owns in the hour preceding the blackout. The company also said its computer alarm systems were not functioning.
The task force also noted that some of the power interruptions were due to trees interfering with power lines.
Task force recommendations include:Strengthening the institutional framework of the North American Electric Reliability Council and developing a funding mechanism for it to help ensure its independence from the companies it oversees.Addressing deficiencies at FirstEnergy by June 30.Improving training and certification requirements for operators, reliability coordinators and support staff.Increasing the network's physical and cyber security.