Tag Archives: telecommunications

Marauding Monkeys Lead to Electrical Outage in Kenya

By ThinkReliability Staff

One monkey managed to cause an electrical outage for all of Kenya – 4.7 million households and businesses – for 15 minutes to more than 3 hours. In order to determine solutions to prevent this from happening again, a thorough analysis of the problem is necessary. We will look at this issue within a Cause Map, a visual form of root cause analysis.

The first step of any problem-solving method is to define the problem. In the Cause Mapping method, the problem is defined with respect to the organization’s goals. In this case, there were several goals that were impacted. If the organization has a goal of ensuring safety of animals, that goal is impacted due to the risk of a fatality or severe injury to the monkey. (In this case, the monkey was unharmed and was turned over to the wildlife service.) The loss of power to 4.7 million businesses and households is an impact to the customer service goal. The nationwide power outage, which lasted from 15 minutes to over 3 hours, is an impact to the production/ schedule goal. Damage to the transformer is an impact to the property goal, and the time required for response and repair is an impact to the labor/ time goal.

The second step of problem-solving is the analysis. Using the Cause Mapping method, cause-and-effect relationships are developed. One of the impacted goals is used as the first effect. Asking “Why” questions is one way to determine cause-and-effect relationships. However, there may be more than one cause required to produce an effect. In this example, the power outage resulted from a cascading effect on the country’s generators. This cascading effect was caused by the loss of a hydroelectric facility, which provides 20% of the country’s electricity, and the unreliability of the power grid, due to aging infrastructure. All of these causes were required for this scenario: had the country had a more reliable power grid or more facilities so that the country was not so dependent on one, the loss of the hydroelectric site would not have resulted in nationwide outage.

Continuing the analysis, the loss of the hydroelectric facility was caused by an overload when a key transformer at the site was tripped. According to the power company, the trip was caused by a monkey falling onto the transformer. (There is also photographic evidence showing a monkey in the area of the transformer.) In order for the monkey to fall onto the transformer, it had to be able to access the transformer. The monkey in this case is believed to have fallen off the roof. How this occurred is still unclear, because the facility is secured by an electric fence designed specifically for protection against “marauding wild animals”.

The last step of problem-solving is to determine solutions, based on the analysis of this problem. The utility says it is “looking at ways of further enhancing security” at all their power plants. Unfortunately, total protection against outages caused by animals is impossible. In the United States, animal-caused outages are believed to cause at least $18 billion in lost economy every year. Just this May, raccoons caused outages to 40,000 in Seattle and 5,600 in Colorado Springs. This year also saw outages caused by squirrels, snakes, starlings and geese. Other unusual outages include work on a transformer causing an outage with economic loss of $118 million in Arizona (see our blog on this subject) and a woman with a shovel who cut internet service to nearly all of Armenia (see our blog on this subject).

Because power outages due to animals and other issues can’t be completely eliminated, ensuring a robust power grid is important to minimize the impact from and duration of outages. Calls for improvements to the aging infrastructure in Kenya have resulted from this incident, but these kinds of solutions require not only the cooperation of the utilities, but the country as a whole.

To view the problem outline and Cause Map for this incident, please click on “Download PDF” above

75 Year Old Woman Cuts Internet Service to Armenia With a Shovel

By Kim Smiley

On March 28, 2011, a 75-year-old woman out digging for scrap metal accidentally cut internet service to nearly all of Armenia.  There were also service interruptions in Azerbaijan and part of Georgia.  Some regions were able to switch to alternative internet suppliers within a few hours, but some areas were without internet service for 12 hours.

How did this happen?  How could an elderly woman and a shovel cause such chaos without even trying?

A root cause analysis can be performed and a Cause Map built to show what contributed to this incident.  Building a Cause Map begins with determining the impacts to the organizational goals.  Then “why” questions are asked and causes are added to the map.

In this example, the Customer Service Goal is impacted because there was significant internet service interruption and the Production Schedule Goal was also impacted because of loss of worker productivity.  The Material Labor Goal also needs to be considered because of the cost of repairs.

Now causes are added to the Cause Map by asking “why” questions.  Internet service was disrupted because a fiber optic cable was damaged by a shovel.  In addition, this one cable provided 90 percent of Armenia’s internet so damaging it created a huge interruption in internet service.

Why would a 74-year-old woman be out digging for cables?  The woman was looking for copper cable and accidentally hit the fiber optic cable.  This happened because both types of cables are usually buried inside PCV conduit and can look similar.  The reason she was looking for copper cable is because there is a market for scrap metal.  Metal scavenging is a common practice in this region because there are many abandoned copper cables left in the ground.  She was also able to hit the fiber optic cable because it was closer to the surface than intended, likely exposed by mudslides or heavy rains.

The woman, who had been dubbed the spade-hacker by local media, has been released from police custody.  She is still waiting to hear if she faces any punishment, but police statements implied that the prosecutor won’t push for the maximum of three years in prison due to her age.

To see the Cause Map of this issue, click on the “Download the PDF” button above.