Technology fails us on a regular basis, but usually the failures are small and insignificant so we take little notice. When a technological failure affects our health, safety, comfort, sustenance, and commerce, it gets our attention. During a heat wave in July 2006, power to New York City’s LaGuardia Airport and subways was knocked out when 10 of the 22 Queens District’s main power feed lines failed during a thunderstorm that had flooded underground manholes housing the lines.
in an effort to quickly restore electrical service to the 400,000 people relying on this system, power was diverted through numerous smaller lines, causing hundreds of underground cables to burn up, leaving more than 100,000 people without power for nearly 2 weeks. For most of these customers, all the food in their refrigerators spoiled, and they suffered in almost unbearable heat.
Many left town or stayed with friends, but not everyone had that luxury. Thousands of elderly and handicapped people were trapped in their high-rise apartments, physically incapable of climbing the many flights of stairs to and from their apartments while their elevators sat motionless. In the past decade, there have been several other huge power outages that affected many millions of people, though not lasting as long as the Queens blackout of 2006. In September 2003, a tree felled by storms severed a main power line that supplied electricity from Switzerland to Italy.
The sudden increase in demand caused a failure in several other major power lines coming from both France and Switzerland, causing a cascading power failure that blacked out the entire country of Italy, except for the island of Sardinia. It took 9 hours to restore power to most of the 56 million Italians and Swiss affected by this blackout, and as much as 2 days to restore power to about 5 percent of the population (CNN News, September 2003).