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Remembering the great blackout of 2003

August 14, 2013 @ 16:11 By: gordon Category: General

Ten years ago, most of Ontario, and big chunks of the northeastern US, was plunged into darkness due to a massive power failure. Most of Ottawa had its power back the next day.

At the time the power went out, I was at work, writing something. Initially, I thought it was just a small brownout, but when I heard the backup generators for the computing centre next door fire up and stay running while everything else remained dark, I knew that it was a bigger problem. Then I started hearing that it was affecting other cities and I thought “uh oh… this isn’t good”. This being less than a couple of years after September 11th, 2001, one thing that came to mind was “was it because of a terrorist attack?”. (It would later be determined that it was the result of a sequence of events that started about two hours earlier in Indiana, but the final straw was in Ohio. Check out this Wikipedia entry for the timeline.)

Upon arriving home I tried using the dial-up number for my ISP to see if I could learn what was going on, but it didn’t answer. When I tried calling access numbers farther away, I was able to connect but not login, probably because the servers that were used to authenticate my account were without power.

At some point I called my friend Rob in the UK to find out what’s going on, which is when I learned of the full extent of the outage.

Throwing in the towel, I headed out for a ride and met up with a friend at Mooney’s Bay. You can read all about it here.

Government offices were closed to reduce power demand and private companies were encouraged to follow suit.

Ultimately, I was off work for the following week, though I did go in to the office for a few minutes early in the week because although Ottawa was affected, our regional offices were unaffected, except for the one in Toronto. Getting into the building was problematic because although I had after hours access, they really didn’t want anyone in the building. When I pointed out that there were any number of places I’d rather be than a gloomy office building with no ventilation and it was only because there was an operational need to be in the building that I was finally able to get in. I did what needed to be done and left after about half an hour.

One evening I went scuba diving in the St. Lawrence River just after sunset, ironically on the remains of a hydroelectric generating station from before the Seaway was flooded. It was a great dive, though a bit spooky because there were very few lights to be seen anywhere.

According to a blog entry from the time, I wasn’t back in the office until the 25th of August.

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