Chicago FAA Fire: A High Volume Crisis Management Scenario

Nearly 2,000 flights canceled, were the airlines prepared?

Flights in Chicago came to an abrupt halt Friday after a fire at a suburban FAA air traffic control facility, creating a serious crisis for airlines, airport officials, and of course the passengers scheduled on the 1,600-some flights that were cancelled as a result.

What sparked this unexpected crisis? Mashable’s Jessica Plautz reports:

A fire at a suburban Chicago air traffic control facility that shut down the city’s two airports Friday was intentionally set by a contract employee, police said. Emergency crews found a 36-year-old man in the basement with self-inflicted knife wounds and burns to his body, according to Thomas Ahern, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He was taken to a hospital. The man used gasoline as an accelerant, and there was fire damage to some wiring in the building, as well as water damage from the sprinkler system, Ahern said.

This specific incident was quite out of the ordinary, but it serves to illustrate the importance of creating crisis management plans for broad categories of events. Both airline and air traffic control facility officials should have had plans for a loss of vital airspace management resources, and from the results it looks as if they were either drastically underprepared or something went wrong with the plan they thought would work. Cancelling that many flights is not only costly in terms of money, but reputation as well, and we’d bet once this mess is sorted out there are going to be some tense meetings as those in charge review exactly how inadequate their crisis prevention and response efforts really were.

The BCM Blogging Team

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