Preparing the Blackout

Energy Urban_planning

One short circuit and a whole city is hamstrung. What happened in Amsterdam shows, how vulnerable complex systems like cities can be. And how dependent on electricity. We talked to somebody, who’s job it is to simulate emergency scenarios.


stroomstoring blackout amsterdam stoplicht
The police are regulating the traffic. “Traffic light 1.0” the dutch tv-reporter Rik Konijnenbelt comments on Twitter

March 27th 09.37 am. A short circuit in a transformer station in the municipality of Diemen leads to a major blackout in the dutch capital Amsterdam and in large parts in northern Holland. About one million households are affected. Traffic lights go out, trains stop dead. The police are sending all their available officers on duty, because many safety instrument systems aren’t working any more. The airport Schiphol stops business for the moment. There is a Blackout in Holland. <p></p>  

The problem of an increasingly connected society

The incident shows, how much europe’s cities depend on an ongoing electricity supply. Even a decrease by 30 percent can lead to grave problems, says Toni Frisch from the Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland. Past November, he and his team were playing through a nationwide emergency case. 48 hours without electricity, three month of energy shortage (Only 70% of the regular supply) as well as an influenza pandemic with two million infected.

toni frisch svu14 (c) Daniel Rihs
Toni Frisch is the project leader of the swiss emergency scenario (c) Daniel Rihs

“Have you read BLACKOUT?”, Frisch aks. “Then you know quite a bit.” The vulnerability of modern societies increased significantly because of it’s stronger interconnection in supply, communiction and transport. An example: In retail business, a major part of the goods are delivered „just in time“. Most of the wholesale businesses and retail shops would be „out after two days“, says Frisch. Another big challenge would be maintaining the health system.

Going back to Stockpiles

Nonetheless, a good connection is the only solution for such emergency cases. Authorities and operators of critical infrastructures have to work together and be prepared. “Awareness is the first step. To keep essential processes of a society going is the second”, says Frisch. When he will be proposing the report of the emergency exercise to the Swiss government at the end of April, he will also make some recommendations. One of them will be, that every swiss household should stockpile ten kilos of food. In Amsterdam the Blackout ended after a few hours. At 12:30 Tennet, the transmission grid operator sent a Tweet. The grid is working again. What stays is a new awareness for the vulnerability of the own city.

Interested in this topic? On Monday, we talk to Harald Katzmair from FAS-Research about the importance of networks in emergency cases.
Foto title: Ronaldo Quercia

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