Luck in real-time infrastructure operations

Ensuring systemwide service reliability has always involved luck in major critical infrastructures. This, the control room operators, will tell you. At its most abstract, good luck can be defined as the non-occurrence of system failure in the absence of exercising failure avoidance options, while bad luck is the occurrence of failure in the presence of exercising those options.

But luck also favors the well-prepared, and well-prepared operators make a difference. Consider how a senior operations engineer for a transmission grid described a close call to us:

. . . We nearly caused a voltage collapse all over the western grid. Everything was going up and down, we were trying to get power from all the nuclear units in the western grid. Life flashed before our eyes. And then the gen dispatcher did intuitively the right thing. He said, Shut one pump down. How he figured that, I still don’t understand. It was something we had never seen before. We had no procedures. . .We went back and looked at it, and the planner said, Oh yeah, you should never have been running three pumps, and we said, Where did you get that from? So we started writing new procedures.

If luck is when talent meets opportunity, then this good luck is the value added by professionals in stopping close calls and near misses from becoming system failures.

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