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What caused 1,180 flights to be cancelled at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport USA
19 December 2017


That eleven hour power outage at the Atlanta airport made global headlines, 1,180 flights were cancelled and restoring normal operations will take several days.

On 18-12-2017, Hong Kong's SCMP report the story too.

Travellers and wheelchair users were trapped in the airport, without any lifts operational. But what caused the chaos, the electrical utility company, Georgia Power, said:

....a switchgear fire in a tunnel underneath the main cables and backup cables too.


That's right, the airport's primary power and backup power feeds were stacked together in the same utility tunnel, cutting all power to the busiest airport in the world.

The length of this tunnel was not reported, its conceivable that these primary and standby circuits overlapped for several kilometres.

I will take a guess that those power systems had not been inspected using infrared thermography either. It's not the first time and surely will not be the last time, its a common theme:

1. 2011 the Fukushima nuclear plant was disabled because the power generators neccessary to start the plant were located in the basement, the basement flooded cutting the power, the basement was flooded by a tsunami;

2. A Hong Kong data centre had backup feed through UPS with 30 minute battery backup but the service contract stated the UPS engineer must be on site within 60 minutes A fault occurred and the engineer arrived 30 mins after the power outage, the UPS batteries were exhausted;

3. Hong Kong suffered an major incident, no international internet, the outage was caused because all the undersea cables were installed together, in the same location, I recall 6 out of 7 cables were cut simultaneously;

4. Aug 2016 Delta airlines IT system lost power and backup power, causing widespread flight disruptions in USA;

5. Fuel oil lines serving the gensets (not double pipe) routed in the data center UPS battery room in earthquake zone.

fire atlanta USA power outage



These types of failure don't occur because the engineers were lazy, they look at the same system everyday it is easy to accept and overlook the obvious, and that's the advantage of an independent audit, bringing a fresh pair eyes that can identify those risks early.

And trouble exists in High tech Hong Kong too, LV switchrooms, transformer rooms, and Fire Services pump rooms, all critical infrastructure being located in basement areas vunerable to flooding. Flooding may not be caused by a natural disaster, water pipes, sprinkler pipe, water tanks can cause flooding.

How resilient is your infrastructure? Don't wait for a power outage to find out, order an independent Kelcroft audit sooner rather than later.

About the Author

John Herbert is a veteran chief engineer with more than 30 years international engineering experience, educated in the United Kingdom, he worked in the UK and then across Asia for more than two decades engaged by international and local companies. He is a Hong Kong Registered Energy Assessor (REA) and BEAM Professional, and is stationed in Hong Kong.



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date: 28-02-20
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