One of the most worrisome - and least understandable - consequences of last month’s storm was a five-hour power outage at Lambert Airport. During that time, some terminals were hot and dark; and communications - with passengers and among employees - were sporadic.
Let me make this clear. There are no excuses. It should not have happened. Storm and water damage in the terminals are understandable. If the wind is strong enough, any roof can be damaged. And a half million UE customers ultimately lost power. But, how does a high-tech airport lose the power to its lights and climate controls in some of its terminals, without some back-up system that kicks in?
According to Airport Director Kevin Dolliole, most of the airport’s 19 back-up generators - and most of the airport’s other emergency procedures - worked fine. However, three back-up generators failed altogether or after only a few minutes of emergency operation. I asked Kevin what went wrong and what he would do to fix it.
Two of his findings are noteworthy:
The airport staff did not test operate the generators on a consistent basis. After the three generators failed, a supervisor initially claimed that they had been tested every month
A report in 2000 recommended that some of the generators be replaced. Lambert placed three of the older generators in the Capital Improvement Program at a cost of $1.4 million. (Two of those generators failed on July 19, 2006.) Because of budget constraints and the cost of safety improvements since 9-11, the new generators have not been funded
The credit for uncovering the fact that airport staff did not routinely test operate the generators goes to Fox 2 News. The folks Kevin appointed to investigate the outage noticed that the running time meters on the log sheet for the main terminal generator had not changed since last September. When they asked about it, they were told the supervisor might have written down the time from a second meter. Fox 2 also noticed that the hour meters on the log sheets had not changed. After a call from Fox 2, the airport staff re-examined the supervisor’s story and determined that it could not be true.
Kevin’s early recommendations, which I’ve appended below, are sound ones, and have my support.
Kevin has already hired an outside contractor to inspect, maintain, and test start existing generators every month
He is going to update the 2000 report and develop a financial plan to implement feasible generator replacements
Kevin will take disciplinary action if warranted