Atlanta Airport's Mistake: Checking If Infrastructure Is Resilient

Published On
Jan 10, 2018

In an article last year, I wrote about building infrastructure and its need to be upgraded to handle supporting mission-critical applications, which means having no single point of failure. I also discussed the importance of having diverse routes to two central offices for broadband connectivity and two diverse routes to two substations for power. Evidently, these concepts were not adhered to at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Ga.

The fire that took out the Hartsfield airport last month should not have wiped out all of its power to the airport. Disaster could have been avoided but instead was magnified because of a poor design. Without seeing all of the details on the fire, it is evident that the power coming into the facility was not properly thought through. The fire not only crippled the flight operations and delayed passengers, but it also uncovered a major design flaw within the design of the infrastructure.

No single points of failure means you cannot have anything coming in on the same physical route whether it is communications or power.

Is the lack of routing diversity a common flaw?

Is what happened at Atlanta’s Hartfield-Jackson International Airport a single location problem, or is that same type of routing diversity problem inherent at other airports across the nation? This is a big question that should be asked at every major airport and railroad facility.

Now is the time that every airport and major city railroad station should review their power and communications facilities to see if a problem like this can be uncovered before it triggers a disaster.

Terrorists look for this type of design flaw to make the biggest impact. Hitting the right spot can magnify a disaster exponentially. It is one thing to take out a runway or a train track. It is another to take out and immobilize the whole airport or train station.

When it comes to routing diversity, all facilities that have any mission-critical application coming into it should be reviewed to see if any safeguards can be added into the configuration. Will that cost money? Of course it will, but consider the alternative if it is not uncovered and fixed; the building or campus becomes a greater target.

Buildings are vulnerable as well

Let’s look at a common example that can be found in just about any major city’s commercial office space. You will be surprised at how vulnerable certain buildings are, and maybe this could be a new area of business for electrical contractors to go in and remedy before disaster strikes.

Going back 30 years and looking at major buildings in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, one of the most common problems I saw was all the communications cabling for the entire building being routed through the parking garage up to the vertical riser system that took the thick cable up and distributed throughout the building. The same could be said for some buildings and the position of their power cables.

If I were a terrorist, all I would have to do is to bring a car in and park it right under the cabling where it goes up into the building and the main distribution frame. Then, I would be in a perfect position to knock out all communications into the building with a small explosive. The ease of driving into the underground parking lot and taking out the whole building’s communications is an exposure that should be addressed. If nothing else, for insurance purposes.

There are many other examples we could get into, but I think you get the point. Going back and re-evaluating the network and power infrastructure coming into a building or business campus can become a whole new business line for electrical contractors wanting to work with existing buildings.

If there is some failure or disaster, the building owner can be looking at a multimillion-dollar lawsuit. Can’t happen? I have been on several multimillion-dollar lawsuits because the building’s infrastructure was damaged, installed improperly or failed to provide services.

If we look at individual downtown buildings, suburban business campuses and other existing structures, we will probably find a lack of focus on this issue of infrastructure resiliency. This could be a worthwhile project to pursue in 2018.

What about the owners of the buildings and business campuses that are less than perfect? Will you be able to sell them on spending money? That is always the key question on any market endeavor.

To me, it would be a good “smart” amenity to add to their “features list,” saying that they can support mission-critical applications because their infrastructure is fully redundant as well as resilient. If 90 percent of their competition are like them and currently do not have built-in redundancy into their facilities, if they add it to their building or campus, they have just cut out 90 percent of their competition when dealing with prospective corporate tenants. That is huge.

About the Author

James Carlini

Contributing Editor

James Carlini, MBA, is a strategist for mission-critical networks, technology and intelligent infrastructure. He has been the president of Carlini & Associates since 1986. He is author of "LOCATION LOCATION CONNECTIVITY," a visionary book on the...

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.