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Investigators Determine Timeline Of Events Leading Up to Blackout

The New York Times -- Investigators of North America’s biggest blackout say they have nearly finished a precise portrait of the event, composed of millions of bits of data, that starts with scattered shutdowns of generators and transmission lines in Ohio and snowballs through eight states and parts of Canada.

The nearly second-by-second account of the 600-mile electrical storm track starts at 1 p.m. on Aug. 14 and runs through the three hours that passed before local problems in the Midwest grew into a crisis that cost billions of dollars and darkened the homes of millions of people.

“We think we have the timeline nailed pretty well,” said Donald M. Benjamin, vice president of the North American Electric Reliability Council, the industry group charged with maintaining electricity flows that was created after the blackout of 1965.

“It’s down to the second in terms of what happens, which transmission paths opened, when areas became isolated,” he said. “It provides a good understanding of how the power flows.”

He would not discuss details on Tuesday, but others involved in the investigation said the timeline essentially matches independent analyses done recently by several grid experts and utilities. These efforts show that a series of mechanical, electronic and human barriers designed to block exactly that day’s kind of cascade utterly failed, for reasons that are not yet fully understood.

The reliability council, also called NERC, has assembled the record for its own investigation and for a task force created by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Canadian Ministry of Natural Resources to analyze the power failure.

The findings so far will be discussed on Wednesday by Spencer Abraham, the secretary of energy, at the Princeton, N.J., headquarters of the reliability council.

Benjamin said that utilities were still pulling together records from earlier in the morning of Aug. 14, with the goal of comprehending precisely what initial conditions existed around the electrical grid of wires and plants before there were any signs of trouble.