Just before 4pm on Wednesday 28 September, a day of extreme weather conditions, the entire state of South Australia lost power. Whilst the exact cause and circumstances of the outage will be the subject of much investigation, of immediate interest to me is how a developed economy dealt with, responded to and recovered from the outage within a matter of hours.
It was fascinating to watch people’s reactions, and the surprises that followed. In a modern day building, so much depends on electricity. Access to lockers, access to the lifts and wireless networks. For all the reach and influence of social media channels, I suspect that talkback radio had its best day in years. Accessible to all, immediate in its messaging and the best means by which the authorities could communicate. The excellent job done by SA Police in directing traffic at major intersections. Sure, it took a long time to get home, but by all accounts everyone did make it home, safely. Carnage could easily have prevailed on the roads. The public transport network did suffer; electric trams and trains could not operate and the Adelaide Railway Station ultimately shut down for the night. There will be a lot to learn about what a total power outage means for transport systems at peak hour, particularly as we pursue an increased fleet of electric buses.
As far as I am aware, this is the largest outage of an electricity network in a developed economy for many years.
This was a natural event, but we are in an era of heightened cyber security risk, and attempted cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure should not be dismissed lightly. South Australia yesterday was a small test of what can happen when an entire network is down, and governments around the world should take note of both the impacts and the responses by the people of South Australia.
Some key observations from yesterday:
- First responders, in particular SA Police, did a tremendous job
- Energy security and energy reliability must be a top priority for all governments
- For businesses, how current is your disaster recovery plan, and have you really tested it in the past year? I suspect many organisations haven’t really put their plan through its paces since the threat of Y2K…
- Communication is key, from the infrastructure companies such as ElectraNet and SA Power Networks, from the authorities, and from individual workplaces. Social media, SMS and radio brought a level of comfort to people in a very uncertain time, and for places of employment, keeping your people informed is the first step to safety.
- The same applies at home – most of us are fine with an outage for an hour or two, but when it looked like the power might be out all night (or days), were we sufficiently prepared?
Yes, it was a day of extreme weather that compounded the situation, and for many households and businesses, power was able to be restored within a matter of 4-5 hours. But there is much for government, businesses and households to learn from yesterday’s outage in SA, not the least of which is the criticality of energy security and for all of us to do the work to be confident in our disaster recovery plans and efforts.