Pay Attention to the Reagan Airport Power Outage

Nov. 20, 2017

Have the foresight to prepare for occupant comfort and make sure you're meeting their emotional and physical needs in the event of an outage.

The Russians were sending a message to President Trump with the recent power outage at Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C. Or so that was the tongue-in-cheek exchange on Twitter about the incident.

Didn’​t hear what happened? Late night on Wednesday, August 15th, two lines that feed into the Reagan National Airport from Dominion Power malfunctioned and caused a disruption in airport operations. Power was restored within about an hour, but left some passengers struggling to get their bags and move on to their next destination.

Photo is from Heather Timmons, Quartz, who saw this worker helping passengers get their bags in the dark by calling out flight numbers and names.

Americas Power Grid Issues

But whether you believe it’s an act of terrorism or a warning of how susceptible the U.S. power grid is to failing us, if you run a facility or own one, you better be ready. 

Did you know, power outages are almost four times more likely to occur than they did just 15 years ago? And not in underdeveloped countries around the world, but right here on American soil.

“The U.S. experiences more power outages than any other developed country in the world, so it’s important for businesses to be prepared,” says Taylor Brummel, marketing manager of Cintas Fire Protection. “Whether it’s severe weather, faulty power grid equipment, a fire or any other issue, emergency lighting can assist in guiding occupants to safety when power fails.” 

You can find more interesting facts about the U.S. power outage problem by reading this article by Brummel: Importance of Emergency and Exit Lighting. She includes tips on how to keep your emergency lighting up to par and it’s a great resource.

However, having your emergency lighting set up properly in your building and your emergency plan in place are not the only things you should consider. You also need to have the foresight to prepare for occupant comfort and make sure you’re meeting their emotional and physical needs in the event of an outage or other emergency.

People were in the dark at the Reagan National Airport. Photo by Heather Timmons, Quartz

Remember these major power outages across the country? 

Like the Regan National Airport power outage and the Super Bowl example above, many times people don’t tend to panic right away. Most would probably rationalize that it’ll be up and running again shortly. However, when faced with not knowing what’s happening around them, people will start to panic.

Samuel Breslow shares his Twitter videos of the dark Reagan National Airport, and you’ll notice people don’t seem alarmed or inconvenienced. Yet. (As it turned out, the power was restored rather quickly within an hour or so.)

The northeastern blackout in 2003 on the other hand was a serious, life-threatening situation that happened in 90-degree weather in some places. That caused some major concerns for many.

Planning Ahead for Any Possibility (Except Zombies*)

What do you do though if there’s a natural disaster or another event that takes out your building’s power AND keeps your occupants stranded in your facility for a long or unknown period of time? Live in the Midwest or East Coast? You could have a blizzard that keeps them at your place until it’s safe to venture out. Is your area prone to tornados or hurricanes? Could your building be a safe haven for people running from a wildfire for instance, who have no where else to go? 

Better have a safe place created with supplies just in case. Who knows how long it can take for rescue crews to come help get everyone to safety. 

Were you involved in the northeastern blackout in 2003? 

Share your experience with us @BuildingsMedia or on Facebook!

What did you do to keep people in your building safe and calm? Did you house anybody from outside?

Like the Frankfurt Airport evacuation scare a few weeks ago, airports raise more concerns for people than say the workplace in an office building, especially with a lot of passengers possessing anxiety about everything that can go wrong. (Terrorist attacks, planes crashing, delays, those with medical conditions, people flying with animals in the baggage claim, lines, crowds, this list goes on.)

But the issue that continues to show up consistently in situations like these is a lack of communication from those running facilities, a lack of emergency planning. An absence of someone stepping up and saying, “This is what happened. This is how we are going to fix it. This is what we need you to do.” The more people speculate on something, the more they think the worst, the more they panic. Then you’ll really have a situation on your hands. 

Real-life Panic Stemming from Silence

Kadie Yale, editor-in-chief of interiors + sources (a sister publication of BUILDINGS), has her own story of being stranded at an airport during the tornadoes that ripped through the Dallas area years ago. When Kadie and her fellow passengers were rerouted to the Austin Airport, they realized they were circling in the air for about an hour, but didn’t know it was because they couldn’t land in Dallas due to the tornados that were tearing through the area. In fact, the pilots didn’t know much either.

Kadie recalls the situation:

“When we landed, it was completely dark. The Austin Airport had been closed down due to the weather, but no one knew that was the reason. The lights were all off in the airport, planes were parked in whatever way they could fit on the ground, and we were just silent. It was almost as if collectively, we were thinking there had been a terrorist attack or something really bad had happened.”

After about a four-hour wait on the ground, (flight attendants were great about offering passengers drinks and keeping people comfortable as well as they could) and the last plane in (perhaps the most calm, Kadie suggests), they were bussed to the Austin Airport that had been reopened to house passengers from the 14 planes. Kadie recalls it was almost apocalyptic weaving through the randomly parked, empty planes. When she got inside the airport, Kadie saw just chaos.

She remembered a woman from the plane was diabetic and in a dangerous situation without her medication. Another passenger was worried about their pet who was in the baggage area on the plane for the four hours they had been stuck in their seats. (The pet survived.) 

Other issues included people who didn’t have water bottles couldn’t use the water stations to fill up. There weren’t enough cots for everyone, so no one from the airport even mentioned there were any available. People were sleeping on the hard tile floor. Space was limited for charging phones and electronic devices, making it challenging to reach out to loved ones - or bosses.  

Amenities to Have Available

Make sure youre thinking about these things that meet the physical needs of your occupants if they’re stuck in your facility for a period of time, and also their emotional needs:

  • Access to clean drinking water - do you have a water filling station? Some people will have water bottles to fill on their own, but for those who don’t, Kadie suggests having a bag of cups available. And make sure it’s known where it can be found. What if the water fountains in your building don’t work? Have a back up. Store a few cases of bottled water and a clear indication of where it can be found.

  • If the power is out, have a backup generator with some kind of alternative power source such as battery-stored power, solar, wind or fuel cells.

  • Make sure you have an emergency kit within reach that can be used in various emergency medical situations.

  • Be sure to provide a way for people to communicate with their loved ones.

  • Have non-perisable snacks on hand, but also consider gluten-free and other major food allergies.

  • Provide alternative places for people to get some sleep if they are staying overnight. Yoga mats, cots, anything that can be used to make occupants more comfortable while they are in your care.

  • Do the common areas in your building have places for people to get comfortable? Could someone sit or lay down on the furniture you have in your building? Is there somewhere to go to get away from the crowd?

  • Are there things for people to do to keep them busy? 

  • What will you do if someone becomes a danger to themselves or the rest of the group? (Kadie saw a man get arrested because he had drank too much and was causing problems.)

  • Stock up on blankets and even hand warmers in case the heat doesn’t work. Invest in battery-powered fans if the air conditioning isn’t pushing out colder air.

Want more tips?

Read these suggestions from expert meeting planners from our sister publication Meetings Today.

Kadie said many of the passengers had kids with them who needed to have something to do while their parents tried to figure out their next step. This doesn’t mean airports or office buildings are responsible for keeping kids entertained, but having some cheap coloring books available or some activities can really go a long way in the eyes of your occupants. Being empathetic to people, whether they have kids or not, is a great way to keep people calm in an already stressful situation.

Aside from communicating with the people in your care, the biggest take away from the Reagan National Airport power outage, or the 2003 northeastern blackout, or the Frankfurt Airport evacuation scare is this: be prepared for everything.

On topic: The Importance of Scheduling Emergency Drills

Have a plan. Have more than one plan. Practice it. Make sure the people who help you run your building know what to do. Train them to lead the rest of the people in your care and put their nerves at ease by caring for their physical needs like food, water and rest. But also include their emotional ones by helping them with the next steps.

(*Any of these planning tips can also be used to prepare for zombies if you feel The Walking Dead is a foreshadowing of whats to come. Even the CDC is prepared for this apocalypse. Perhaps this should be the last item on your list - not the first.)

Katie Downing is the Digital Content Specialist for BUILDINGS.

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