2003 Power Outage: The First Test of Michigan's Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response System

Jim Koval, MA, MDiv – DEPR PHEP Local Liaison 


A major outage knocked out power across the eastern United States and parts of Canada on August 14, 2003. Beginning at 4:10 p.m. ET, 21 power plants shut down in just three minutes. Fifty million people were affected, including residents of New York, Cleveland and Detroit, as well as Toronto and Ottawa, Canada. Although power companies were able to resume some service in as little as two hours, power remained off in other places for a couple of days. The outage stopped trains and elevators, and disrupted everything from cellular telephone service to operations at hospitals to traffic at airports. 

This was also the first real-life test of Michigan's public health emergency preparedness and response system. The State Health Operations Center (SHOC) was activated on the evening of the 14th and ran two 12-hour shifts for the next few days. The SHOC coordinated response efforts with the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) managed by the Michigan State Police. One major issue to solve was getting potable water to Detroit's hospitals. MDHHS has come a long way in sixteen years, including name changes. The MDHHS emergency coordination center (known as the CHECC) has been activated eight times since then: 2005 for Hurricane Katrina, 2009 and 2010 for Pandemic influenza, 2013-2014 for Ebola virus disease outbreak in west Africa, 2016 for the Flint water crisis, 2017 for the hepatitis A outbreak, and 2018 for the City of Parchment water emergency (PFAS).