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Lessons from the Blackouts: The View from the Control Room


Charlie Durkin (middle) and Jack Feinstein (right) in the Con Edison control room around the time of the July 1977 power failure. [photo courtesy of Jack Feinstein]

The following notes are from an interview recorded in June 2000 with Jack Feinstein and Charlie Durkin. Durkin and Feinstein were the Chief System Operator and Assistant Chief System Operator for Con Edison when the New York Blackout of 1977 occurred.

The interview is separated into 2 parts:

>Listen:

(Part 1)
   

(Part 2)



Interview Part I: Notes

Time: hour,min,sec

Topic Discussed
00:00
Introductions
06:15
How did your training prepare, or not prepare, you for the blackout?
07:55
If we were in the control room on that day, there wouldn't have been a blackout
09:39
We probably didn't get fired because…we were the only two who knew what we were doing...
10:40
Studied restoration for months - there was no better way to restore (than what they did)
11:15
Did the Blackout make you better engineers?
13:15
What were the critical developments?
24:45
When did the two of you get involved?
26:00
No one was doing anything...operator was in a state of shock
26:20
Why didn't load shedding work?
29:00
Load shedding didn't work because the operator switched too fast - switches had a 3-7 second delay that no one knew about
30:30
Control center was not designed by operators but by engineers
32:00
New control center design - to avoid human error, Con Ed used Lockheed and Boeing as contractors because of their experience in aircraft cockpit design
38:00
When did you come up with a restoration plan? - we made it up on the fly
41:45
Almost lost control - everyone started doing their own thing
41:30
If the phones hadn't worked, the lights would still be out
51:30
When analyzing events minute-by-minute, we noticed that for a 2 -3 hour period, nothing was being energized - efforts were directed at making sure there was power at the Con Ed headquarters for a press conference
1:02:00
How have things changed since the 1977 Blackout? - management has changed - came up with emergency response procedures - expected managers to be leaders, not observer
1:03:30
In September 1977, we avoided a possible blackout similar to July 1977
1:04:30
Changes - General Manager position became a "trained" role - operators moved into this position - previously, GM's did not know how things worked
1:07:45
Other changes - no longer accepted marginal performers - some left the company, others were moved out of operator positions
1:17:15
Used an Industrial Psychologist for job definition and evaluation
1:25:30
Did your Con Ed changes move into the rest of the industry? - they did through the NY Power Pool - otherwise, Con Ed was at the mercy of other companies
1:31:00
Questions about Nuclear plants
1:33:00
Can a fail safe system be built in a deregulated environment?
1:37:00
Do you remember any operators "taking the bullet"?
1:39:00
Procedures vs. judgment calls - implemented more procedures - could make your own call ONLY if the situation did NOT match the procedural scenario

Interview Part II: Notes

Time: hour,min,sec

Topic Discussed
00:30
How did ConEd change its load shedding operation? - physically, procedurally
02:00
Prior to the blackout - what was the rule for load shedding? - it was rare - my have shed load once every 20 years?
09:45
SOCCS - new computer system took 7 years to develop - computers couldn't handle it - 400 man years of programming (received it in 1985)
11:00
"Horse and buggy" to the "starship enterprise" - no in-between steps from old to new
11:15
Contingency analysis every minute (linear analysis)
14:15
State estimator - powerful tool - didn't become "regular" equipment until late 1980's
16:45
How do I know the information from the computer is "real" - so many data points and places for error
19:20
Biggest users of computer systems in the world - electric utility industry.
19:50
Operators have complete faith in software - readings, state estimator, etc
25:00
If all the operators had worked together - would have stopped blackout - management failure
31:00
Lessons of 1977?
36:00
Implemented continuous learning
48:00
Social response in 1977 - how did it influence Cone Ed and the industry?
52:20
1977 revealed the importance of electricity in civil behavior
55:40
Expectation that lights will stay on at all times
57:50
Can't compare Con Ed with anyone else - far above every other company
1:00:40
When something fails, someone failed to do something

 

  

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jts{27 June 2000}