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What caused 1,180 flights to be cancelled at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport

"The power is back on at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson airport the busiest airport in the world"

That eleven hour power outage in 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 tunnel, cutting all power to the busiest airport in the world.

There is no reporting about the length of this tunnel, its conceivable that these primary and standby circuits are 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 standby generators were located in a basement, but power was cut when the basement was flooded by a tsunami;

2. A Hong Kong data centre had UPS with 30 min. battery backup but emergency call contract that stated engineer must be on site within 60 min. The engineer arrived 30 mins after the power outage because UPS batteries were exhausted after 30 mins;

3. Hong Kong suffered an international internet outage, because all the undersea cables were installed together, I recall 6 out of 7 cables were cut at the same time;

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

fire atlanta USA power outage

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

And trouble exists at home too, LV switchrooms, transformer rooms, and Fire Services have been located in basement areas so are vunerable to 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 A. Herbert is a veteran engineer with more than 30 years engineering experience, educated in the United Kingdom he has worked across Asia for the last two decades engaged by international and local companies. He is a Hong Kong Registered Energy Assessor (REA) and BEAM Professional.

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