Atlanta, infrastructural disaster, has another infrastructure disaster


The shockwaves were seismic.

It only took minutes for hundreds of people to get caught in the crosshairs of a major infrastructural failure in the city of Atlanta. A key piece of the city was suddenly shut down, and before long, the entire region was feeling the effects. City officials scrambled to minimize the impact, but there was little they could do to satisfy the unsatisfied. They had a real mess on their hands.

Oh, you thought I was describing the scene Sunday at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport? I was actually thinking back to what happened along Interstate 85 when a bridge caught fire and collapsed on March 30, shutting down the roadway for nearly two months.

What has been a less-than-banner year for the city’s infrastructure had a grand finale of sorts Sunday afternoon when the world’s busiest airport was suddenly crippled by a power outage that left the hub in the dark. With no power for the bridges, pilots couldn’t pull their planes into gates, and other planes were forced to circle the city until they were ultimately sent to other airports in the region.

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By Sunday evening, more than 1,100 flights into and out of the airport were canceled, and officials had to figure out what to do with all those people who didn’t have phone service and, thus, no way to get in touch with loved ones.

In a statement, Georgia Power said the outage likely occurred when there was a fire at an underground electric facility, and they hope to have the lights back on at the airport by midnight Sunday. Never mind that it’s the busy holiday season, though that’s hard to ignore – how was the world’s busiest airport brought to its knees so easily?

If you’re unfamiliar with the infrastructure of Atlanta, imagine you handed a 5-year-old the old Sim City on CD-ROM and told him or her to have at it. OK, that might be a slight exaggeration, but at times, it can feel that bad.

It probably felt that bad for thousands of people as they sat in the dark at Hartsfield Airport while the sun set Sunday evening.

In the coming days, we’ll hear more about why this happened and elected officials will offer up their own solutions. Mayor-elect Keisha Lance Bottoms probably had a list of topics she’s planning to address, but Hartsfield’s power problem likely just shot to the top of it.

One simple fact remains: Atlanta is a city rife with infrastructure problems, and 2017 has exposed them. The city narrowly escaped another Snowpocalypse embarrassment last Friday as heavier-than-expected snow fell on the north side, and panicked drivers rushed to get home. But the Great Hartsfield Outage of December 2017 is another black eye for a city that has been blindsided all too often by infrastructural failure for which there should have been a better plan.

Starting Monday, the airport will need to work quickly to get caught up before the next rush of Christmas travelers begins to arrive toward the end of the week. This could hardly happen at a worse time, but doesn’t that always seem to be the case when Atlanta’s infrastructure gets crippled in some way?

Perhaps these catastrophes will keep happening until the city gets serious about its infrastructure problems. And, as they always say, the first step to fixing the problem is admitting you have one.

Atlanta, take a close look at what happened Sunday. It’s a problem, and it keeps happening.

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