It’s scary enough to envision the nation’s electrical grid collapsing under an enemy attack or because of a powerful solar radiation onslaught. But it’s even more disturbing, perhaps, to think that we might someday suffer a massive nationwide blackout because the grid simply breaks down on its own.
“What happens is, a failure occurs somewhere and weakens the system a bit,” Iowa State University engineering Professor Ian Dobson explained in a 2012 article. “On a bad day, something else happens. Usually it doesn’t, but on that day, let’s say, it does. If it’s a really bad day, then a third thing happens and the system becomes degraded. You’re in a situation where it’s more likely that the next failure is going to happen because the last failure already happened. That’s the idea of cascading failure.”