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An investigative report issued this week by the U.S. and Canadian governments surrounding the worst power failure in U.S. history is shedding light on the importance of business-continuity planning through findings that the electric-system catastrophe could have been prevented.

The U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force placed much of the blame for the Aug. 14-15 blackout on FirstEnergy Corp., based in Akron, Ohio. The monstrous power outage crippled parts of Ohio, seven other states and Ontario, cutting off electricity to an estimated 50 million customers as the cascading failure mercilessly sped along transmission lines. In some parts of the United States, power was not restored for four days. Estimates of total costs of the blackout range between $4 billion and $10 billion.

In its final report, the task force said “inadequate situational awareness” at FirstEnergy in part contributed to the blackout’s beginnings in eastern Ohio. Specifically, investigators highlighted factors that served as dominos leading to the collapse. Those factors included faulty software and control-room procedures at FirstEnergy that led to an alarm-system failure, the inability of FirstEnergy to properly recognize and shut off 15,000 megawatts of power to its customers as a contingency measure, and vegetation affecting power lines.

Investigators offered 46 recommendations to prevent another widespread plunge into darkness, spearheaded by a recommendation to make reliability standards mandatory and enforceable with stiff penalties for noncompliance violations. Currently, the private NERC (North American Electric Reliability Council) oversees the voluntary requirements.

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