--> Gill Blog: The Faulty Fuse Syndrome

Gill Blog

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

The Faulty Fuse Syndrome

An important aspect of a comprehensive Business Impact Analysis (BIA) is identifying and the quantifying the impact of a particular event (probability assessment of that event is part and parcel of this process). If there was some quantifiable measure demonstrating how the smallest of slip-ups can trigger a huge event, it could be the basis for some great entertainment. Hmmm, let me think about this for a minute – it’s triggered something…oh yeah, that’s it!

Saturday Night Live has always been known for providing some of television’s all-time greatest moments in sketch comedy. Whenever I think of minor goof-ups that cascade into huge events, I can’t help but be taken back to a hilarious skit from 1979 called the Pepsi Syndrome. In it, a half-witted technician spills his Pepsi on the control panel of a nuclear reactor at 2-mile Island resulting in a catastrophic breakdown. First, some context. In March of 1979, a nuclear accident occurred at 3-Mile Island in Pennsylvania involving the meltdown of the core. Eerily, this was a case of life imitating art, as just a few months prior, the film The China Syndrome was released, which detailed the events around a nuclear accident (needless to say, the real event did wonders in boosting the latter's box office receipts).

In an attempt to show the American public that there was nothing to fear, President Carter (played to a tee by Dan Aykroyd (here's a windows media version)), an engineer by training, sees no harm in walking into the reactor. In the end, Carter (who at this point, still had more than a year left in his term) becomes a mutated giant, dumps his wife Rosalyn (Laraine Newman) and elopes with the only other person who walked into the reactor, a maid (Garrett Morris) who was asked to enter the core to “mop up a spill”, and in turn also transforms into a freakish giant (great performance by the way, by the great Richard Benjamin, who played the 2-mile island media spokesperson charged with maintaining damage control). So how is this connected with this little forum?

Well, I was instantly transported back to this skit today after reading the following piece appearing in today’s Guardian that identified the cause of the London blackout of August 28 – are you ready for this one? It was caused by the installation of an incorrect fuse. That single event had a cascading effect, resulting in the largest blackout in London in ten years. The Guardian piece is actually a review of a 43-page National Grid Transco report on the sequence of events that led to the power outage. Whether it's a major pandemic, a power outage, or a poorly balanced Pepsi, an event of any magnitude can cause disruption. Something to think about when you're putting your own plans together.


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