The worst possible fate facing a traveler is being stranded at a layover airport. Atlanta's Hartsfield Jackson airport is the busiest layover airport in the country (arguably, the world), and one fire in a Georgia Power facility managed to put the whole place in the dark.
Stuck in Ft. Lauderdale because the power is out at the Atlanta airport. How on earth can the busiest airport on earth have power down and no backup generators up and running? This makes ATL airport designers look dumb as hell!
How could that happen? And yes, it does make them look dumb as hell.
It seems that all the effort at making things redundant, hardened and, you know, useful, focused on air safety and air traffic control. That makes sense, since those are high value targets for enemies of the U.S. and terrorists, etc. But didn't they think of the mundane, and what to do with tens of thousands of passengers if a single point of failure power line is cut?
They also didn't think that having the tower, ATC, and other safety-related facilities intact wouldn't matter a whit if no flights could take off or land because the rest of the airport was dark and powerless.
The good news is that nobody appears to have died from this (as of this hour). The bad news is that potentially a million or more holiday travelers are struggling to get to Grandma's house for Christmas.
Georgia Power released a statement saying they don't yet know why the airport's power failed.
Georgia Power believes the issue may have involved a fire which caused extensive damage in a Georgia Power underground electrical facility. The fire was safely extinguished by fire crews before Georgia Power could enter the area to assess damage and begin repairs. The event not only impacted the underground facilities, but also substations serving the Airport and, while the cause is not yet known, Georgia Power's system responded by isolating areas where equipment wasn't operating to ensure safety and minimize damage.
Well, that's comforting. The statement goes on to say that Georgia Power has "many redundant systems in place to ensure reliability for the Airport." And now we know what it takes for all of them to fail.
It is rare for a large airport to completely lose power. But ATL isn't just a large airport. It's a major hub--THE major hub east of the Mississippi. They should have done better.
One more thought. This is the second fire in Atlanta that had lasting effects on transportation. Last March, a fire under an overpass on a section of Interstate 85 (a main artery in Atlanta) closed that highway after a bridge collapsed. The fire was found to have been intentionally set by three homeless people. That fire wasn't set with the intention of closing a major highway, but it exposed a big weakness in the state storing flammable and combustible construction materials under an overpass.
This fire, whether it was intentionally set or not, exposes another weakness in Atlanta's infrastructure, that has much greater ability to impact travelers at a national level than the previous fire.
Again, this leaves me asking the same question as Travis Tritt. How the hell can this happen? The designers look really dumb.
I think it's time Atlanta and other cities look at critical infrastructure and heed the old rubric: an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure. Those stranded travelers in a cold, dark Atlanta terminal, or outside in the freezing rain will thank you.