Aug 12 2007

Airport Contingency Procedures Totally Lacking

Published by at 11:26 am under All General Discussions

Want a great example of a lack of workable contingency procedures in place at our nation’s airports? Take a look at the chaos in LAX today simply because a fiber optic line failed:

We sat for three hours on a plane, and then we sat for two more hours in an aisle, and then we sat for another hour in another room,” said air traveler Bethany Clayton. “And then we sit in line.”

The trouble began before 2 p.m. Homeland Security officials say the fiber optic cables, which support the system used to process passengers coming into and leaving the country, malfunctioned.

“They came over the microphone, and they said that there’d be a little bit of a delay. That little bit of a delay turned into four hours,” said air traveler Jeremy Bright. “They had two laptops that were running. So everybody had to go — I think there were 400 people — had to go through two laptops.”

Whoever designed this communications architecture is in big trouble. You will not see NASA or DoD systems crashing just because one network link is down. And we should not see that in commercial aviation where millions of lives are at risk as they fly each and every day. Note how laptops, presumably over wireless 802.x links that are used for WiFi access, were able to come on line and do some work. While not as secure as an optical line, the 802.x wireless will do in a pinch when there is no other option. Clearly someone needs to make sure that (a) the fiber optic links are one or two fault tolerant (i.e., they can operated through one or two faults) and (b) a completely independent backup option is available with laptops and 802.x or whatever in the situation there is a more wide spread problem. This is a system design issue that should have been accounted for.

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Airport Contingency Procedures Totally Lacking”

  1. MerlinOS2 says:


    As you know I am a professional day trader and for my usage here just for my trading computers I have a router that can accept seven wide area network connections (Linksys RV-016) I have 5 six meg dsl lines split between two providers , a 10 meg cable connection and a 45 meg vsat backup.

    Even if they had a fiber optic connection, the same router with several different dsl connections or even FIOS based high speed lines used as fallback would have resulted in a much speedier capability than what they evidently had.

  2. crosspatch says:

    “Whoever designed this communications architecture is in big trouble.”

    They certainly SHOULD be. This is exactly what I do for a living and there is no excuse. I work for a company that is *much* less vital to our nations economy but we have two separate fiber vendors over separate paths that connect us to two different internet providers and we have a third, smaller capacity circuit for emergency use should the fiber circuits fail so that some critical functions will still operate. There should be no single point of failure in a well designed network.

    Sometimes, though, you are at the mercy of the local infrastructure. If there is only one fiber path into a building, it can literally cost millions to have another path installed. Ring architectures were designed to mitigate somewhat against fiber cuts. This points out an incompetent design OR something else going on and using a communications problem as a “cover” story.

    But the latest news from the LA Times says they have not said absolutely that it is a communications problem. They still haven’t released an official cause. The worst part of the whole thing is this:

    In the inspection area inside the Bradley terminal, an estimated 1,000 passengers quickly emptied the vending machines, and no water was available for at least four hours, according to an airport employee. By the time water arrived, children and elderly passengers were lying on the floor showing signs of dehydration. Water fountains were not accessible due to renovations in the terminal, and the only air conditioning was provided by three industrial fans with limited range, he said.

    Airports should have an emergency plan in place to feed and water people in cases like this.

    This is a breakdown of design architecture that goes beyond communications networks. The entire system is fragile.