A “Black Hole” in the Sky

| September 27, 2007

Yesterday, the air traffic control system in Memphis went down.  At the time, there were over 200 planes in the air space controlled by the Memphis center.

There were no plane crashes — no one died. Why?

A report on ABC Evening News last night highlighted two key reasons — pre-planning and the availability of an alternate means of communication.

The FAA has a contingency plan in place to address the loss of air traffic control at a particular location by diverting control to other centers — pre-planning.  Individual air traffic controllers used their personal cell phones to contact other air traffic control locations — an alternate means of communication.

Within one hour, planes were diverted around the Memphis air space creating what one commentator described as “a black hole in the sky.”

In a previous blog, I discussed the importance of emergency preparedness in an occupational safety and health management system.  Having procedures in place so you are prepared when things go wrong (including telecommunication and computer failures) is a key requirement of OHSAS 18001.  More importantly, it saves lives.

For the last year and a half, I have been working with the local emergency planning committee (LEPC) conducting workshops for local businesses and emergency responders to assist them with business continuity planning in regional disasters.  We have focused our outreach to organizations that handle significant quantities of hazardous materials.

During these workshops, two critical needs keep coming up.

Know what they are?

Adequate pre-planning (being prepared) and a functioning communication system.

As one attendee in our workshops put it, “As long as you have a plan and can talk, you can figure the rest out.”

© ENLAR® Compliance Services, Inc. (2007)

Category: Emergency Preparedness

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