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William "Bill" Jurith, Svstem Operator, reached for the ringing telephone on the console in Consolidated Edison's Power Control Center at the corner of West End Avenue and 65th Street in Manhattan. The caller was probably the System Operator at Orange and Rockland Utilities to the north. The displays on the control board in front of Bill were giving off the telltale signs of a problem with one of the main electric feeder lines coming into the city; the lights had begun flashing just moments before. Bill was acutely aware of his direct responsibility for delivering electricity to the occupants of New York City on that muggy evening in July. His job was to juggle the supply of electricity with power consumption, and any disruption in the flow from the north was of concern. After all, there were only a handful of high-capacity ties to the island. The loss of even one was important. Bill, 56 years of age, commuted into the city each work day from his pleasant, green two-story house in Brooklyn where he and his wife raised their family. He took the job of System Operator about three years before when he accepted the promotion from his previous position as Power Dispatcher. Like many other senior operators in electric utility companies, Bill was chosen for his new job primarily because he had amassed considerable experience with the complex electric network during his years of service to the company. True, the new job was considerably more challenging and he had undergone treatment for a mild case of hypertension since starting, but the condition had not interfered with his performance during the normal work day. But due to circumstances bevond his control, this was not going to be a normal shift in any sense of the word. Bill would soon find his skill, knowledge, and demeanor tested as never before. His actions at his console during the next hour would affect the lives of over eight million people in the City of New York. Bill put the receiver to his ear. The operator from the utility got right to the point: "Severage." Bill responded in the laconic vernacular used by utility technicians, technicians who work with each other day in and day out. He asked him if the feeder line, line Y88, had "opened" (stopped carrying power) as his control panel suggested: "Yeah, Y88 opened up?" (1) ( 1)This dialogue, like all of the dialogue in this story, is taken from an actual tape recording of telephone conversations made the night of this event. Only selected conversations have been used in this storv due to the length of the actual transcript. "Well, this is what I am assuming," the operator replied. "I haven't heard a thing. I was just trying to get a hold of him before I called you to confirm the thing was off." The operator was talking about yet another operator in a distant facility who would know something about the status of the important power line. 1
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