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Jakarta Blackout: Scenarios we need to consider in the future

The recent power outage in Jakarta saw millions of people left stranded and unable to communicate. The blackout, which lasted nearly nine hours led to disruptions in mobile phone services, cash machines, failure in traffic systems and even the shutdown of Jakarta’s new mass rapid transport system.

According to various news reports, the cause of the blackout was due to faulty transmission circuits on the power line in Central Java. This caused voltage drops that hit the power networks in Jakarta as well as West Java and Banten provinces. While power has since been restored, state power company PLN said they are still trying to fix some issues in the power supply.

With power restored, businesses can resume as well. But the bigger question is, how much did businesses lose in the 9 hours of the blackout? Hospitals and airports were well equipped with generators to ensure their services were not disrupted. The Indonesian President has himself said that such an outage should have been solved faster if there was a proper backup or risk management plan.

The UK recently released The Blackout Report, which looks at what happens if the UK plunged into darkness by a nationwide electricity blackout that lasts five days. The report also revealed the consequences of a world without power, which surprisingly is almost as to what just happened in Jakarta for nine hours. So, we decided to look at five of the worst-case scenarios that can happen during a major power outage.

Firstly, looking at businesses, the downtime suffered from such an outage may have led to huge losses. While there are no estimates yet on the amount lost during the downtime, it is not doubted that the impact was felt among all industries. Online businesses are the ones to experience the most losses during such an incident. While data centres are built to support power outages and backup data, a prolonged power outage could lead to more data being lost. Are businesses prepare to face such a long downtime?

Mobile phones, which we depend on a lot, were practically useless when service providers were unable to provide coverage during the power outage. While electricity and telco coverage are two different industries, the power outage was so severe that users could not communicate at all. Telco provider Telkomsel has since said they are compiling an inventory of the number of devices affected by the power cut. Could such a problem be avoided if telco providers were more prepared with their systems?

With mobile network down and power out, there was also a struggle to get cash as ATMs were offline. This brings us to another question, with governments looking towards implementing a cashless society in most countries, what happens if all systems go offline? Do we have to go back to doing this the old fashioned way? Do we go back to cash? It seems most likely that will be the choice we have. But what if we are unable to get cash?

Traffic lights and other public commodities were also affected. As nations head towards developing smart cities, they need to consider the systems they have to ensure continuity. Living in a smart home, for example, would see all our connected devices connected to one system. And the most important source for them to work is electricity and connectivity. But if both systems are out of order, will we end up being stuck in our own homes?

Lastly, the dependence on automated systems. Smart cities are all about connectivity. While Jakarta is not yet a smart city, the government is working hard to ensure they have the right systems and infrastructure to become one in the future. One of the foundations for that was improving the transport system with its Mass Rail Transit system. Yet, during the power outage, trains were stuck and passengers were trapped in trains, having to walk out eventually and take feeder buses. Can this be avoided if the trains had a backup power supply so that it can be manually controlled?

These are just some of the worst-case scenarios that may happen someday. As much as we want to digitise and automate every function, we still need to remember the foundations that make all this work. The incident in Jakarta, or in any city should serve as a lesson for governments and businesses. We need to be prepared for the worst-case scenarios because without power and communication, there will be huge losses financially and economically. Having a proper backup system on the cloud, a realistic working risk management plan and emergency nofification systems are essential.
 

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