Tuesday, May 17, 2011

“Essential” Personnel

I’m not sure if it has become common knowledge yet. The tornado outbreak of April 28 was the largest outbreak in United States history. And it was way too close to home for me.

I’ve had a chance to get out and make some picture since then. A little crossroads near me -- named Rio -- was all but obliterated. I’ve never seen destruction like that in my life.

I’ve seen the aftermath of dozens of tornadoes over the years. I had one go less than 1 mile from my house one time. I was at Atlanta Center, working, when I heard one pass by. It broke a few trees and knocked down a fence. This isn’t the Great Plains. Tornadoes hop and skip over the hills here in Georgia. They might knock half a house down. The bad ones might knock down several houses. But the damage is usually no more than 100 yards wide and they don’t stay on the ground long. That’s the kind of tornadoes we get here in Georgia.

That wasn’t the kind that hit Rio. The odometer on the car measured the damage at just over a mile wide. Not “long” mind you -- it went for miles and miles (as I’ll show you) -- but “wide”. The path of the damage (if not the tornado itself ) was a mile across.

Here’s a picture from Rio.

Here’s a picture from the next town it hit -- Sunny Side.

Here’s a map showing the relationship between Rio (A) and Sunny Side (B).

The town just north of Sunny Side -- Hampton -- is the location of the Atlanta Air Route Traffic Control Center. Here’s a story from ABC News about what it was like working that night, from one of the “essential personnel” that stayed behind to control the air traffic.

Southern Tornadoes: How One Air Traffic Controller Led Planes to Safety as a Tornado Loomed Overhead

If I was a Congressman, I’d make the FAA show me their plans for replacing an air traffic facility every few years. I’d want to know how they were going to come up with 50 radar scopes, 100 radios, hundreds of computers, chairs and printers. Not to mention 50-100 controllers. Think about what they would do the next day if Atlanta Center got hit. The first thing they’d want to do is get the surviving controllers to other facilities that had taken over Atlanta’s airspace. They would want to fly them out -- with the airspace all but closed down. I bet you’re smart enough to foresee a lot of the problems. Think on it.

Don Brown
May 17, 2011


Big Sweetie said...

Yo Don...

You have an opportunity here to segue into a post on the ludicrous "backup" plans to use when a facility goes down (regardless of the reason.

I'm a long gone ZDC kinda' guy and, for example, we were to take over a substantial portion of your airspace should ZTL have an outage.

The tools available... virtually none. We had NO computer maps of ZTL's airspace, extremely doubtful radio coverage, and, ah, need I go on?

I think all of the interfacility backup plans are basically worthless.

Bruce Berberich
Greenville, NC

Don Brown said...

I agree of course, Bruce. I always wondered how ZDC was going to talk to AVL, TRI, CLT abd GSP Towers. No idea who was going to talk ATL Tower -- or how.

Don Brown