Friday, August 22, 2008

Radar Room With a Skylight

Back in 2004, Hurricane Ivan came through Pensacola. It battered the area pretty badly, coming ashore just southwest of here in Gulf Shores, Alabama. To give you an idea of the proximity from an aviation perspective, Gulf Shores' Jack Edwards airport is 27 miles southwest of Pensacola Regional Airport.

The northeast side of a storm tends to be the strongest quadrant, and that's exactly what Pensacola got smacked with. It did the usual things a hurricane does: tore up roofs, leveled buildings, knocked out power, wiped out vegetation. Amongst its star achievements was the severe damage of the I-10 and Highway 90 bridges across Escambia Bay and leveling of Perdido Key. 1/4 mile of the I-10 bridge alone wound up at the bottom of the bay.

As of today, Google maps still shows a lot of the damage. For instance, if you click this link, you can see all of the "blue roofs": houses and apartments whose roofs are no longer watertight and are currently covered in blue construction tarps.

Here at Pensacola TRACON, Ivan turned out to be Mother Nature's Giant Can Opener of Doom (TM).

Remember this photo of me working the Whiting arrivals sector?

Here's what that same spot looked like after Ivan.

"Red Knight 123, I'm showing an area of pink fluffy precipitation at your 12 o'clock, 5 miles, approximately 20 miles in diameter. Deviate as necessary. Blackbird 451, radar contact lost, you've flown behind an errant ceiling tile. Maintain VFR."

Here's the other side of the room. We used to take over Eglin's airspace on the weekends and would use these scopes. That hasn't happened since the storm. However, these scopes still have the Eglin maps on them.

Here's a shot of the roof damage from above. Basically, a quarter of the roof just lifted off, exposing all of our sensitive hardware equipment to the ravages of Mother Nature.

This is the inside of the systems room that contains our hardware and communications equipment. The door in the first damage shot above leads in here.

Pensacola TRACON is a 24/7 facility and we had people in the building at the time of this event to keep an eye on things. They acted quickly to try and protect what they could as the storm had its way with our 45 year old building. Our current NATCA rep, Cliff Murdock, ended up winning an Archie League award from NATCA for his efforts during and after the storm. You can read all about his experience by clicking this link - just scroll down to the "Southern Region" section. To go from the above scene to operational in only a few short days is mind-blowing.

To quote from the article:
Murdock said, “in the loudest crash I have ever heard, a large section of the roof peeled off the TRACON and landed onto a red Saturn in the parking lot.” .... The storm drenched computers, radar scopes and communications equipment, but a team of controllers, airways facilities and other Federal Aviation Administration employees, led by Murdock, set to restoring the TRACON to near full operational status. The facility reopened just 20 days later, with nine of its 12 radar scopes back up and running, inside a building outfitted with a new roof and a handful of other repairs.

Ivan was a nightmare for the community but things have bounced back since then. On the plus side, we are currently having a new building constructed. The new one is basically a concrete bunker, designed from the ground up to take all kinds of abuse. God forbid we should get another major hurricane, but if we do hopefully the damage should not be as catastrophic as Ivan's.

The damage photos above are courtesy of

1 comment:

Cliff/P31 said...

[quote]a team of controllers, airways facilities and other Federal Aviation Administration employees, led by Murdock, set to restoring the TRACON to near full operational status.[unquote]

Hey Mark! Cliff here. Just to set the record straight, yes, I was there throughout and after the storm. I was the NATCA Representative at the time and did help with controllers' personal issues and staffing. But that quote that says the entire effort was "led by Murdock" was somewhat of a stretch (yes, I know that is not your quote). ;0)

P. S. Remind me to show you my Katrina pics.