Last revised: October 13, 2014
Chicago Center Fire
Over 2,000 flights Cancelled
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Monday, October 13 2014:   Chicago ARTCC is back on line this morning after a 17-day outage caused by sabotage. However, there were still some delays at ORD and MDW caused by rainstorms and turbulent air. No technical problems have been reported at Chicago Center in Aurora.

Air Traffic Controllers back to work!

The FAA is conducting a 30-day review to determine what contingency plans can be quickly implemented to prevent major disruptions to airline service like those that occurred around the U.S. after the Chicago Center fire. Security improvements are also being studied.

Sunday, October 12 2014:   FAA says teams have completed testing on almost all critical systems and equipment at the sabotaged Chicago Center. The work is on schedule for ZAU to be up and running overnight after a two-week shutdown.

A full shift of Air Traffic Controllers is returning to the Center for the transition. Other sites (ZMP, ZOB, ZID, ZKC) will transfer control of airspace sectors back to ZAU after midnight.

Sunday, October 5 2014:   FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and Illinois lawmakers toured the Center and saw about $124 million in damages.

FAA Administrator, Michael Huerta

Workers removing soot and fire debris from the electronics, floors, walls, and ventilation systems.



Monday, September 29, 2014:   Two More Weeks: October 13 the damaged Aurora facility may be fully operational.

The FAA brought in technicians from around the country to speed up the repairs. The first shipment of replacement equipment was scheduled to arrive late Sunday night, with more deliveries expected over the next few days.

 While teams work around the clock to restore network connections at the facility, air traffic controllers who normally work at the Aurora facility are now working at surrounding air traffic facilities and other high-altitude traffic centers.

 As of Sunday evening, airlines had canceled more than 700 flights in and out of O’Hare and nearly 500 flights experienced delays, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware, which also showed that 56 flights had been canceled Sunday in and out of Midway and that more than 260 were delayed.

 After the facility was damaged Friday, air traffic controllers have been working from dozens of facilities to safely move air traffic around the Chicago area, according to a press release sent out Sunday by The National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

 “This is one of the most challenging situations that air traffic controllers and other FAA employees have faced since 9/11,” the association’s President Paul Rinaldi was quoted as saying in the press release. “The damage to this critical facility is unlike anything we have seen before. Since the first moment when radar scopes went dark at Chicago Center Friday morning, controllers have ensured the highest level of safety at all times.”

 Four facilities in Cleveland, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Minneapolis, have taken over the damaged facility’s responsibilities, according to the release. Each has worked with Terminal Radar Approach Control facilities in cities across the Midwest, including Chicago, Milwaukee, Fort Wayne and South Bend.

Sunday, September 28, 2014:   Four other Centers, ZID, ZOB, ZKC, ZMP, are working overtime to direct air traffic that would normally be tracked through the Aurora Center, and are adding dedicated phone lines to communicate among the different regional sites.

The extensive damage at Chicago Center included 23 out of 29 computer racks destroyed in the Friday morning fire. Seven of the computer racks, owned by Harris Corp, will be replaced today and the remainder of the week.

Flight delays at Chicago's O'Hare and Midway are likely to continue until new computer equipment is installed and tested.

Naperville man charged in FAA ARTCC Fire

36-year-old Brian Howard of Naperville (a contract employee for the FAA) has been charged with a fire set at the Chicago Air route Traffic Control Center in
 He may have worked 8 years for Harris Corp. a major FAA contractor in charge of coordinating FAA's communications, meaning he could have had authorized access to the facility,

As one of the FAA's most trusted corporate partners with 30 years of experience, Harris Corp., based in Melbourne, FL, is responsible for the telecommunications infrastructure.

An analyst said earlier today that the damage and delays caused by the fire, and computers and communications lines, could cost the airlines "hundreds of millions" in damage and lost business.

Apparently Howard posted a message on FaceBook which contained a reference to the facility, and was subsequently forwarded to law enforcement authorities.

Howard is being held without bond, because he is a danger to the community. His attorney said it was because Howard was a danger to himself. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

FaceBook: "Take a hard look in the mirror, I have. And this is why I am about to take out ZAU and my life."

Someone at the Center called 9-1-1 around 5:45 a.m. after discovering a 'trail of blood' in the basement that led to Howard. Investigators believe he deliberately set a fire, possibly using accelerants, before cutting or stabbing himself.

Paramedics found Howard in the process of slitting his throat. He was surrounded by his own blood with cuts to both his arms. A knife and lighter were also recovered.

A ground stop was issued at ORD and MDW and thousands of flights were delayed or cancelled.

Howard went down to the transmission lines in the basement and wrapped them in rags and soaked the rags in gasoline. He started cutting the lines as well.

The FAA doesn't know the full extent of the damage (fire and water damage to the computer and transmission cables and equipment) or how long it will take to repair everything, because they can't get back into the building.

Extensive Damage May Close ZAU For Days

Midway Canceled Flights

All Air Traffic Controllers have been put on
Administrative Leave Until further Advised

The damage (done by a disgruntled contractor) was so extensive that the Center might not be operational for several days. All radar and communications systems were shut down.

Apparently, Howard had enough knowledge to strategically cause as much damage as possible to the computers. 23 out of 29 computer racks were destroyed. He used rags and gasoline, then cut all radar feeds into the building and most communication lines. Additionally the fire and water damage affected the computers that run all the operational systems.

A preliminary damage assessment has been made and when they gain access to the telecommunications room a more thorough assessment will take place. After technicians fully review the damage, they will be able to develop a timeline for repairs, replacement and full restoration of services at the Center.

All federal and contract employees at Chicago Center have photo identification cards that are inspected by a guard posted at the perimeter of the facility prior to entry and that workers must swipe their card to gain access to the building.

In addition, all FAA contract employees at ZAU, with access to facilities, information or systems and equipment undergo background checks that include a review of employment, education, residence and law-enforcement records.


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Last revised: October 13, 2014

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