Snakes and bats cause more blackouts than criminal haxors

The rogue forklift is mightier than the keyboard, says Australian report

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Blackouts in Australia can be caused by snakes, birds, bats, and cats, but precious few by Russian hackers.

That's the conclusion from power system outfit Eaton's annual analysis of Australia's power system, the Blackout Tracker.

Ever since South Australia's 2016 megastorm, “energy security” has been a political catch-phrase (usually meaning “anything but renewables”), so the report caught Vulture South's attention.

Eaton's estimate for average business losses caused when five system faults triggered a statewide shutdown is AU$10,000, and only 12 percent of businesses had a backup generator available.

Eaton also notes that re-entering lost data takes “days or weeks” (so back up your data, people, and test the backups to make sure they restore), and according to PwC, “90 percent of companies that experience a computer disaster and don't have a survival plan go out of business within 18 months”.

It doesn't even need to be a big “system dark” event, the report says, relating that a momentary brownout at Melbourne's Tullamarine Airport in November grounded airlines by upsetting their IT systems, and therefore made a mess of air traffic.

Cyber-attacks get no mention whatever in the report, but the five “most unusual” causes of blackouts in 2016 are amusing:

  • An olive python, trying to slither down a pylon having caught a nesting magpie goose, blacked out Hayes Creek in the Northern Territory last October for 30 minutes;
  • Last April, flying foxes in plague proportions were responsible for “large number of activations of safety equipment, and subsequent power outages” over several weeks;
  • Someone with a bad temper and the keys to a forklift attacked a tourist bus, other vehicles, and solar power infrastructure in Western Australia's Thevenard Island in December;
  • A flock of birds blacked out more than 1,500 customers in Bathurst last October; and
  • Someone stole an earthing cable at Hakea Prison, blacking out Canning Vale in Western Australia, in November.

Nearly three million people in Australia and New Zealand were affected by 257 blackouts in 2016, the report says (only 12 of which were in South Australia, to put that state's political debate in context). Most outages last a little over an hour.

Where the cause of an outage is known, the most common reasons for a blackout are (in order) weather, equipment failure or human error, and vehicle accidents. None of the blackouts were attributed to “the wind didn't blow”.

Eaton's report is available here (with registration). ®


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