Atlanta Airport & Terrorism: Mayor Won’t Rule It Out

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Atlanta’s mayor, Kasim Reed, said on December 17 that there is no evidence that the power outage that shut down the city’s busy airport is deliberate, but he also said that he could not rule out terrorism.

Reed, in a lengthy news conference held hours after the airport was shut down because of the outage, said the power outage was caused by an electrical fire. However, authorities still did not know what caused that fire, which took two hours to put out as firefighters battled the blaze inside. “We do not know how the fire started,” the mayor stressed.

Asked by a reporter, “Can you positively at this point rule out terror?” Mayor Reed said, “We can’t rule it out at this time. As I said, right now we are moving ahead with a sweep of the premises, and we need to make sure that we’ve secured our campus… Georgia Power is actively engaged in getting our power back up. But because we don’t know the source of the fire, we have no way of absolutely knowing at this time that our system may have been tampered with in order to create this kind of chaos and confusion. So we’re not going to allow that to impact our security measures.”

kasim reed

Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed.

“There is no evidence to suggest the fire was caused deliberately,” the mayor said in the Sunday evening press conferencing, adding that security sweeps were being conducted at the airport. “Even so, we are taking this matter extremely seriously…” He said the fire erupted inside one of Georgia Power’s three substations. At about 1:06 p.m., the power outage occurred at the airport. “Our fire units were dispatched and arrived on the scene within four minutes,” the mayor said. “…It took 1 and a half to 2 hours to make sure the fire was adequately contained.”

The mayor said that officials expected the airport to be “fully operational” by midnight Sunday. He said a switch to activate the backup electrical system was damaged by the fire, which is why it didn’t activate. He also debunked rumors that there was looting inside the airport, saying there was not.

The mayor also said that travelers are being sent to the convention center for shelter, with meals courtesy of Chick-fil-A. Fox 5 anchorwoman Deidra Dukes also noted that the mayor also “says can’t rule out terrorism, not ruling anything out while cause of blaze is unknown. Security sweeping the airport as @GeorgiaPower works to determine cause of fire.”

Flight Aware is a good site to track delays. On December 17, it reported that “all inbound flights being held at their origin until Sunday at 11:00PM EST…arrival delays for airborne aircraft an average of 47 minutes…departure delays an average of 45 minutes.”

Georgia Power believes the issue may have involved a fire, which caused extensive damage in a Georgia Power underground electrical facility. “The fire was safely extinguished by fire crews before Georgia Power could enter the area to assess damage and begin repairs. The event impacted not only the underground facilities but also substations serving the Airport and, while the cause if not yet known, Georgia Power’s system responded by isolating areas where equipment wasn’t operating correctly to ensure safety and minimized damage,” Georgia Power wrote. “No personnel or passengers were in danger at any time. Georgia Power has many redundant systems in place to ensure reliability for the Airport and its millions of travelers – power outages affecting the Airport are very rare.”

The continued delay was bound to increase the frustration of stranded passengers. Hours after the outage first occurred, the situation was still not remedied. Delta wrote in a statement that more than 450 flights had been cancelled.

Multiple major airlines cancelled flights to and out of Atlanta. They included Jet Blue, Southwest, American, and United. Delta was offering refunds to customers.

At 4 p.m., the airport released a press release saying that the cause of the power outage remained under investigation. “ATL officials are working with Georgia power to identify the cause and remedy the situation, and will update as soon as more information is made available, “ wrote the airport, which reported that the power outage occurred shortly after 1 p.m. on December 17.

The airport noted that the Federal Aviation Administration had issued a ground stop for flights headed to Atlanta’s airport, with many flights inbound to Atlanta being diverted. “A ground stop means that flights headed to Atlanta are held on the ground at their departure airport,” reported the airport.

The airport directed passengers to their individual airlines’ social media channels as well as its own.

People’s patience wore thin fast.

The airport confirmed the outage had occurred in a brief statement posted on Twitter, but it initially provided few details, which was outraging some passengers. “A power outage has impacted several areas in the airport. #ATL officials are working to remedy the situation. Additional updates to come,” wrote the airport on Twitter after the blackout first occurred.