Chapter 4: All of Life is Connected
At 3:32 p.m. on August 14, 2003, an overheating electrical line sagged onto a tree just outside the city of Cleveland, Ohio. As a result, a huge amount of strain was put on other electrical lines in the state. Soon, the utility that served Southern Ohio sealed itself off as its lines burned under the pressure of the one failing line. This created an electrical barrier between the southern part of the state and the northern part of the state.
Without power from the southern power station, the city of Cleveland was starved for electricity. As a result they drew power from Michigan and Ontario, which knocked out more power lines and power plants. This started a chain reaction, causing power plants in northwestern New York to malfunction.
In reaction, New York sealed off its power plants, cutting power off from Canada. This created a different problem. With nowhere to send the extra electricity created, the New York plants overloaded their system. This forced the plants to shut down completely.
The result? The largest blackout in the history of the United States, cutting off power in eight states and leaving tens of millions without power.
Isn’t it amazing that the largest blackout in U.S. history was a culmination of very small events? One malfunctioning power line shut down power for millions.
This serves to illustrate a very important and often overlooked fact: the most complex things are often the most fragile. Why? Because complex systems rely on connections.
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