While the nation had to brave a lengthy and widespread power blackout on the night of 9th January, the darkness was, in a queer way, enlightening. It brought into light the hidden weaknesses in parts of our power grid and lack of adequate capability and preparation to quickly isolate the troubled part, prevent the fault from spreading into other parts of the grid, and restore the supply quickly. The blackout also exposed our government’s ritualizedapproach to handling serious incidents and mishaps, natural or otherwise. The incident also revealed a growing tendency among us, as a society, to get into a frenzy of premature assessment and conclusions. Normally, in a country with properly functioninginstitutions,such an incident would triggeran automatic and defined response. The entity responsible, in our case the National Transmission and Despatch Company (NTDC), would attend to the incident to quickly remove its cause(s), control the fault’s footprint, and restore the system back to normal. It would conduct a preliminary inquiry within hours tofind outthe cause(s) of the incident and report it to relevant agency, in our case the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA). This would follow with in-depth inquiry to further ascertain the cause(s), understand why preventive and protective mechanisms did not work, and recommendmeasures to prevent recurrence of such incidents in the future. But notin our wonderland overflowingwith experts in every field, except the one in which we are supposed to.As if it were a godsend opportunity, everybody just jumped into the arena—media of all sorts—like gladiators too impatient to exhibit whatever arsenal they possessed. During the ten or so hours of blackout, wesaw politicians engage in vicious verbal duals blaming each other for what was done or not done in the past. TV channels keptbreaking the same news again and again.Talk-show hosts outpacing each other in trying to convince viewers how knowledgeable they were on complex technical issues which even certified professionals would not dare indulge. There was also no dearth of experts, some genuine but many self-proclaimed, adorningthe newsbulletins and talk shows offering an assortment of speculative assessments, wild value judgments, and exotic suggestions. A formal investigation is already underway on the blackout and jury is still out as to its causes and whether the incident was properly handled or not. It would not be appropriate to comment on its technical aspectsas it would be just speculation. But the above incident does offer a few takeaways for us to ponder whether we are in the government, opposition, an entity involved in such incidents, media, or society. We shouldn’t jump to hasty conclusions or indulge in sloganeering, blame games, or speculative debates which essentially carry no value. We ought to trust our institutions, no matter how weak they may appear, and allow them to discharge their duties. Pulling their strings from every side during a crisis situation only works to shatter their confidence and further weakens them. NEPRA shouldn’t just use its brute authority for the above purpose but engage and facilitate the NTDC in modernizing its systems and facilities First and foremost, our government must lead by example. It should seriously reconsider its present approach to handling any incident or crisis, now almost consummated into a perfect ritual, rinsing its hands clean of all responsibility and shifting the entire blame to its predecessors. It must wake up to this reality that the very reason they are in power now is that voters were not happy with the performance of the previous rulers. They didn’t elect the present regime for a joyride and,therefore, anxiously awaitthe positive change that was promised to them before the elections. Next election is fast approaching, and the voters are intelligent enough not to get misled a second time on high-sounding slogans and rhetoric alone. Judged by any standard,our government appeared frantic and jittery during the blackout. There was absolutely no need for the energy minister to hold a press conference during the blackout orto supervise the restoration process from the National Power Control Center (NPCC) in person. One can list many drawbacks of his intervening personally in the above process but not a single benefit. Fortunately, and unlike the previous regime, it wisely decided to refrain from finding an easy scapegoat and firing the NTDC’s MD right away. It must realize that any incumbent head of an entity of the size and complexity of the NTDC, even if he comes from within, requires sufficient “dwell time” on the new position to grasp the intricacies and constraints of the system, weaknesses of its procedures, and the limitations of its workforce before seeking or effecting any material improvement. Once the immediate pressure built-up in the aftermath of the blackout is over, the NTDC should form a taskforce of 3 to 4 professionals from within and entrust it the task to critically review its prevailing practices and procedures relating to coordination of scheduled maintenance between generation plants and transmission systemswith special emphasis on the design, deployment, testing, and operation of different tiers and zones of protection schemes, apparatus, and devices. It should also review its contingency and emergency planning and management practices, especially their field testing periodically. The Grid Code 2005 is considerably weak on such issuesand the transmission grid requires upgrading and modernizing to make it compatible with the new developments that have taken place in the past 15 years. NEPRA will have a special role in the above matter. It should critically review its own regulations and standards for design and performance fortransmission. Its current regulations and standards have many deficiencies which are in dire need of improvement. It should carefully review its incident reporting and management regulations and proceduresalso and ensure that these are actively followed. It should shield the NTDCfrom undue interference from any quarter during such incidents if these occur in the future. NEPRA shouldn’t just use its brute authority for the above purpose but engage and facilitate the NTDC in modernizing its systems and facilities. Such improvements always need additional funds and a perennial pressure on regulated entities to cut their costs often compels them to compromise on upgrading and modernizing of secondary systems and training and development of their staff which ultimately ends up in low probability but high impact episodes like the latest blackout. Pakistan’s power sector is also all set to shift to a wholesale competitive market next year. Under the new setup, investment in transmission and distribution (T&D) networks and the allocation and recovery of these costs would pose some serious challenges, and could expose the power grid to significant new and additional risks, thus increasing the probability of such blackout happening in the future. It may not be too early, therefore, for NEPRA to start planning for elimination or mitigation of such risks right now, as the country cannot afford to absorb the huge costs and inconvenience which invariably results from such blackouts. With over half a century of TV channels each loaded with multiple talk shows daily, electronic media’s frenzy to fill space for news and commentaries is not incomprehensible, but they must exercise restraint during a crisisbecause they become another problem for the firefighters to handle. As for the experts, we know that the glamour of appearing on a TV channel as an expert is tempting but they should resist it at least tillthe crisis isover and all the facts are available.On a lighter note and with a slight twist toSir Laurence Olivier’s famous remarks, “We used to have professionals trying to become experts. Now we have experts trying to become professionals.” The writer is a freelance consultant, specializing in sustainable energy and power system planning and development.