North America received an earsplitting “wake-up call” last month when the biggest blackout in U.S. history darkened eight American states and two Canadian provinces, driving millions out in the streets and closing more than 100 power plants across the country. In a span of nine seconds, the rolling power outages spread across the Northeast, leaving roughly 50 million without electricity and thousands of police officers on duty overnight.

In terms of people affected, the blackouts easily surpassed those that hit the West in 1996, when sagging power lines, heat and high demand for electricity caused an outage for 4 million people in nine states. In 1977, an outage in New York City left 8 million customers without electricity or air conditioning on a steamy July afternoon, and in 1965, about 30 million people across most of New England and New York state lost power for a day.

For years, those in the line contracting business have been saying that the nation’s electrical grid is in desperate need of a major facelift, especially since most of the transmission and distribution systems have reached senility. Many have expected a patchwork grid to perform as a national system, but as it stands momentarily, the system is clearly unable to meet the demands and requirements of the future.

Electrical contractors may start to come across a lot of work as the need to upgrade existing lines and increase system capacity becomes a harsh reality. In fact, the recent outages will most likely become the topic of a few discussions at the NECA Convention in Orlando, renowned as the industry’s premiere event and bringing the largest electrical and line contractors, manufacturers and distributors from all over North America and numerous foreign countries.

People might ask themselves: Do we take electricity for granted even though electrical power is a right we all treasure? The blackouts have given many pause to think as they were forced to struggle through daily life without power-driven conveniences. Turn to our Industry Watch section on page 12 to read more about these recent disturbances.

And as every year, the September issue of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR is dedicated to highlighting events of the upcoming Show and providing you with an exciting view of what is to come. The events in Orlando will offer visitors three days of fun in the home of Disney, and activities at the Orange County Convention Center (which furnishes a $1.4 billion economic impact annually to the Central Florida economy) will provide people with many opportunities to learn about cutting-edge technologies and new trends in the electrical contracting industry. Turn to page 40 to read about the exciting events we have planned for you this year.

See you at the NECA Show. EC

STANIMIRA Z. STEFANOVA, Editor