Contingency Plans

This week’s episode of my podcast Beneficial Intelligence is about contingency plans. Texas was not prepared for the cold, and millions lost power. Amid furious finger-pointing, it turns out that none of the recommendations from the report after the last power outage have been implemented, and suggestions from the report after the outage in 1989 were not implemented either.

As millions of Texas turned up the heat in their uninsulated homes, demand surged. At the same time, wind turbines froze. Then the natural gas wells and pipelines froze. Then the rivers where the nuclear power plants take cooling water from froze. And finally the generators on the coal-powered plants froze. They could burn coal, but not generate electricity. You can built wind turbines that will run in the cold, and you can winterize other equipment with insulation and special winter-capable lubricants. But that is more expensive, and Texas decided to save that money.

The problem could have been solved if Texas could get energy from its neighbors, but it can’t. The US power grid is divided into three parts: Eastern, Western, and Texas. They decided to go it alone but apparently decided to ignore the risk.

In all systems, including your IT systems, you can handle risks in two ways: You can reduce the probability of the event occurring, or you can reduce the impact when it occurs. For IT systems, we reduce the probability with redundancy. We have multiple power supplies, multiple internet connections, multiple servers, replicated databases, and mirrored disk drives. But we run into Texas-style problems when we believe the claims of vendors that their ingenious solutions have completely eliminated the risk. That leads to complacency where we do not create contingency plans for what to do if the event does happen.

Texas did not reduce the probability, and was not prepared for the impact. Don’t be like Texas.

Listen here or find “Beneficial Intelligence” wherever you get your podcasts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.