Can the Terrorists Turn Out Gotham’s Lights?

Who stayed lit after Gotham's lights went out during the blackout of August 2003? Batteries and standby generators kicked in to keep trading alive on the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq. But the AmEx failed to open; true, it had backup generators for the trading-floor computers, but it depended on Consolidated Edison to cool them, so that they wouldn't melt into puddles of silicon. Banks kept their ATM-control computers running at their central offices, but most of the ATMs themselves went dead. With their robust backup generators, Verizon's wireline switching centers smoothly handled traffic volumes three times above normal, but cell phone service deteriorated fast, since soaring call volumes quickly drained the cell tower backup batteries. Traffic lights went out, but backup generators kept the city's Traffic Management Center alive enough to re-synchronize about half of them quickly when the power came back on. The dedicated fiber line that links City Hall to the city's broadcast media went dark when a Time Warner hub lost power. The radio communications system for police, fire, and other emergency services progressively lost capacity as the backup batteries for many radio repeaters ran down. Power from a satellite truck, though, allowed Katie Couric and Lester Holt to broadcast the Today show from Rockefeller Plaza.

Critical Power

The New York Sun

It will happen again. The mayor, the governor, and congressional committees will all hold hearings, and point fingers, while the engineers will, soon enough, find a technical explanation for what caused the massive August 14 black-out. There will be all sorts of sonorous pronouncements about how utilities ought to be regulated differently, and a raft of truly silly calls for more solar and wind power, and more conservation to take the strain off the grid. Very few people, however, will get around to acknowledging the few key realities.

Critical Power White Paper

Electricity occupies a uniquely important role in the infrastructure of modern society. A complete loss of power shuts down telephone switches, wireless cell towers, bank computers, E911 operator centers, police communication networks, hospital emergency rooms, air traffic control, street lights, and the electrically actuated valves and pumps that move water, oil, and gas, along with…

How Technology Will Defeat Terrorism

Mark P. Mills and Peter W. Huber
City Journal

In transit across Manhattan on any given day are some 4 million letters, 3 million people, half a million motor vehicles and their contents, and half a million parcels—any of which may be carrying something lethal. Step by step, cities like New York must now learn to watch and track everything that moves. Airport screening is coming to much of the rest of civilian life; but it will have to be much smoother, faster, more accurate screening than airports have today, or life will just grind to a halt.

No Limits: Energy and Technology

Peter W. Huber & Mark P. Mills The materials and quantum phenomena that brought us digital information are now ushering in a new age of digital power. They extract, process, and use energy in altogether new ways. They pack far more power, into far less space. They control high-power streams of electrons and photons at…