Preparations aided response to massive outage; tracking the cause 'could take months'

State and local officials across the Northeast said today that the emergency response methods they upgraded after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks helped them respond to yesterday' massive power outage. The preparations included computer links among state, local and federal emergency response centers.

New York Gov. George E. Pataki and Cleveland mayor Jane L. Campbell, among other state and local leaders, praised the emergency response of their public safety agencies. Campbell said her city had activated the same emergency response plans prepared for terrorist incidents.

In New York, the Federal Emergency Management Agency relocated its emergency response center to a facility with backup power, a Homeland Security Department spokeswoman said.

'FEMA's emergency support team has been activated to respond to requests for assistance,' the spokeswoman said. So far there have been no requests, she added.

Michehl R. Gent, president and chief executive officer of the North American Electric Reliability Council, said at a press conference this morning that his organization had been formed to prevent cascading blackouts following a similar Northeast power failure in 1965. He said he was 'embarrassed and upset' by the event and would work with government authorities to investigate it and prevent recurrences.

Almost all the electric power infrastructure affected by the power failure is in private hands. Federal response to the events has been limited so far to monitoring developments and praising the generally calm response of the public, especially New Yorkers.

Early reports did not indicate that computer systems of any kind played a role in the power failure.

Gent said tracking down the cause could take months.

But the blackout had no effect on Internet backbones, said Lloyd Taylor, vice president of technology at Keynote Systems Inc. of San Mateo, Calif., which monitors Internet performance. Taylor said major interruptions were not expected from a power outage such as the one that struck the Northeast Thursday, because service providers and network operators have power backups, many capable of operating for days.

The only performance problem found by mid-day Friday, he said, was an outage at a single peering point between the UUNet and AT&T networks in New York. Traffic between the networks was being routed through Philadelphia and Chicago without interruption, Taylor said. The problem showed up Friday in what appeared to be a single device. Taylor said it is likely an equipment failure unrelated to the blackout.
'GCN's William Jackson contributed to this story

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