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Jenn Lemmon
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ATO Riders of the Storm

When a major storm approaches, our primary goals are to sustain the national airspace system, mitigate impact on air traffic operations, and return to full operations as quickly as possible. The ATO also plays a crucial role in providing air navigation services to government and private organizations that are providing emergency response and relief.

To do that effectively, we have to communicate with our own people in affected facilities across our airspace, and outside agencies like the Department of Defense and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. We expect the information flow to run smoother than ever because this year we are using the new Joint Air Traffic Operations Command, or JATOC, to make sure everyone who needs updates get them as soon as they’re available and in a format that’s useful.

Our JATOC Crisis Action Team has been activated since the weekend to unify the ATO’s response efforts. The team is coordinating through the National Operations Manager and industry representatives at the Command Center to understand how airlines and other airspace users are changing or canceling flights. As the storms get closer, we’ll coordinate with them about the timing of any pre-emptive plans to reduce or suspend air traffic services. Our military counterparts are using their aircraft to pre-stage bottled water, generators and other relief supplies in places that will make it easier to get to storm victims if needed.

Our Technical Operations teams are checking operational readiness plans at potentially impacted facilities, filling up on fuel, removing debris, and looking for ways to harden our infrastructure and bolster our resiliency and contingency planning. They’re stocking up on water and meals for colleagues who have to shelter in place.

We instituted moratoriums on routine maintenance in areas that are vulnerable to the storm. Our program management second-level engineering teammates suspend testing and support as well. During a recent storm in Louisiana, for example, we put a hold on testing and optimization work on airport surface surveillance equipment for more than a week.

The ATO has also deployed forward operating response teams to the state emergency operations centers in North Carolina and South Carolina, to work with other federal and state partners.

Through all of this, it’s important to remember that our most critical asset is our people. Please be sure to take safety precautions at home as well as work, and stay rested enough to think clearly on the job, especially during the immediate aftermath of these storms.

The dedication our co-workers show during crises is never so clear as on the anniversary of Sept. 11, when we pause to remember the people killed by terrorists who hijacked aircraft in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington. We owe a lot to the quick decision making by our ATO colleagues who grounded aircraft to protect our national security that day. Their actions assure us that we have the right people in place who can handle challenges even in the most unimaginable circumstances.

Thanks everyone! Be safe!

Teri


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