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Send Word Now Remembers: Largest Blackout in U.S. History

6 Minute Read
Eleven years ago on August 14, 2003, you may have been sitting in the dark. On this day, America’s largest blackout struck eight states in the Northeastern and Midwestern United States, and parts of Canada, leaving over 55 million people without electricity.

Who would have thought that an overloaded circuit in Ohio, combined with human error – a computer bug – coupled with outdated infrastructure, could have affected such a large portion of the United States? Much less, in such an extreme way. Because of the lack of electricity, many, in turn, were without water (water pumping and purification stations were inhibited), transportation (electric commuter railways were not operational), and basic communication (phone circuits were overloaded or down altogether).

During the blackout, many businesses within the locked-down power grid went without internet service for almost half a day. In many cases, both the primary and secondary email servers were within the same grid, causing IT system failures throughout the entire Northeast. Not only was email communication severely disrupted, but phone lines were also widely overloaded, making sending and receiving simple phone calls nearly impossible.

As the lights came back on two days later, many companies received a wake-up call, so to speak, that they were not prepared to communicate in such a widespread emergency. Some key lessons learned from this event include:

Multi-modal notification services can make a difference. Multi-modal technology increases the chances that important, time-sensitive messages are relayed to users quickly during a crisis. Even with widespread events like power outages, communication channels such as mobile devices will likely still be available. Working with a vendor whose Customer Support specialists can launch notifications for you means you’ll have access to communication tools even if internet service is down. While it can’t solve every communication problem, notification services can make the difference between quickly recovering, and slowly floundering.

Not all notification services are created equal. Services vary widely in their uptime guarantees, security certifications, ease of use and customer support capabilities. Do your homework before selecting a provider for such a critical tool. Select one that takes resilience as serious as you do.

Maintain multiple points of contact with employees if possible. Many organizations have emergency notification systems in place as part of their business continuity plan, but fail to recognize the importance of maintaining multiple points of contact (e.g., landline, mobile, SMS, email, desktop, etc.) with each of their employees. Offer incentives for employees to provide personal information, and utilize vendor tools such as self-registration portals so individuals can maintain their own data.

Just like the Blackout of 2003, we rarely expect such widespread disasters to strike. But, we can effectively plan for them. Employ a multimodal emergency notification service like Send Word Now, and don’t be left in the dark from a communications perspective.


Consider Send Word Now
Send Word Now’s alerts can be sent via voice over wired and wireless phones, email, text, PIN, pager, fax, mobile app, desktop alert and other means.

Our new revolutionary recipient mobile app, SWN Direct, is equipped with Audience Visibility capabilities to allow the user to know who is “on-net” and available to receive the message before the alert is ever sent. This application includes SWN Express Messenger (an SMS alternative messaging system) and SWN Express Voice (which bypasses traditional telephone networks with Voice Over IP capabilities).