In the early hours of Wednesday morning, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) experienced an outage of its Notice to Air Mission (NOTAM) alerts system, according to multiple news reports. NOTAM alerts provide critical safety information to pilots about ground conditions, runways, and signal disruptions, says the New York Times.
In response to the outage, the FAA grounded all flights in and out of the United States pending the resolution of the issue. At 9 a.m. Eastern Time, the FAA lifted the grounding order as the NOTAM system engineers gradually bring it back online. Upwards of 4,600 flights were delayed, which highlights the importance of critical infrastructure, safety protocols, and the expansive implications of even a few hours of downtime for these essential systems.
President Joe Biden is aware of the FAA’s decision to ground flights pending the resolution of the outage of the NOTAM system. He has directed Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg to provide a full accounting of the cause of the outage. While the Biden administration has not identified the exact cause, they are saying what the outage was not caused by: a cyberattack.
While full details are not yet available, data center professionals can glean lessons from this incident. In December 2018, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s (CISA) National Infrastructure Advisory Council (NIAC) released a study detailing how the government should respond to catastrophic power outages. Here’s a summary of the study’s findings:
- Design a national approach to catastrophic power outages: Translating government responses to the private sector, one could take this advice to mean “Develop a comprehensive DR program” which is the baseline for modern enterprises today.
- Examine and clarify the federal authorities that may be exercised: For enterprises, this would mean gathering C-suite support and levels of authority in the event of an outage to company systems.
- Develop guidance and provide resources for states, territories, and localities to design community enclaves: Here, we translate this to department-level resources and options for risk mitigation during an outage.
- Design and support a portfolio of incentives: Firms will want to provide the proper financial resources to remove barriers to continuing business operations in the event of a disaster.
Also notable in the NIAC report is the inclusion of use cases and operational scenarios that predict disasters and the ways the government can address them. Many private entities have these scenarios in their risk mitigation DR/BC plans. There are some, though, that do not extend those plans or scenarios to a wide swath of their organizations. This could be the key to the survival of a business in the event of an expansive outage.