Hartsfield-Jackson focuses on storm preparedness

Credit: Branden Camp

Credit: Branden Camp

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has increased its planning for severe weather and gained a “StormReady” designation from the National Weather Service.

Many cities and counties, as well as some universities, hospitals, malls, airports and attractions like Disney World have gotten the StormReady designation, which requires approval of a hazardous weather plan. More than 2,500 locations across the country are designated StormReady.

The program "is about public safety, understanding relationships," understanding hazards and being prepared, said National Weather Service meteorologist David Nadler. In Georgia, severe weather can include everything from snow or ice to flooding to thunderstorms and tornadoes.

The world’s busiest airport spent a year and a half on preparations to get the StormReady certification from the National Weather Service, according to Augustus Hudson, director of emergency management and communications for Hartsfield-Jackson. Much of the work was done by staff of the airport’s Centralized Command and Control Center, known as C4, which opened in 2009 with 24-hour operations.

“In the case of a tornado, for instance, the airport may have only a matter of seconds to respond,” notifying airlines and others to prepare, said Hartsfield-Jackson’s senior deputy general manager Michael Smith.

If necessary during a severe weather event, Hudson said the airport is prepared to move passengers to safe locations, such as restrooms or other interior spaces without windows.

In the skylight-topped atrium in the domestic terminal, for example, that might call for moving passengers into restaurants that aren't directly below the skylights. The airport is adding more windows through the concourses to introduce more light as part of its $6 billion modernization and expansion.

During storms like the one that swept through the area Tuesday evening, airport officials say they notified employees of the weather coming in. But there hasn’t been a severe weather event that has necessitated movement of passengers to sheltered locations in recent years, Hudson said.