SFO Review Shows Airport's Failures in Aftermath of Asiana Crash

San Francisco, California - November 20, 2013

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) released a performance review today, highlighting improvements that need to be made in coordinating post-disaster responses. Conducted by an aviation consulting firm, the self-imposed review was ordered to analyze the airport's response to the Asiana Flight 214 crash on July 6. Three young girls were killed in the crash or its aftermath and over 180 others on the plane sustained injuries. 

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, an automated system designed to notify key airport personnel of an emergency "failed within minutes of the airport's biggest disaster ever." The system, which cost the airport nearly $12,000 per year, was supposed to send voice mails to airport managers directly after an emergency in order to coordinate an appropriate response. Due to a glitch in the software, airport managers were forced to call over 100 key officials one at a time. The review does not make any mention on how precisely this affected the airport's response, only that it is an area for SFO to make improvements. The airport has since created a crisis hotline at the airport linking air traffic controllers to emergency response managers. 

The other major area of emphasis mentioned in the review had to do with SFO's website, which started to fail only two minutes after the crash and went dark only 30 minutes later. The Chronicle reported that the website, which cost a total of $180,000 to set up, ran off only a single server and handled traffic of less than 20,000 visitors per day. In the aftermath of the Asiana crash, the website clocked 75,000 visitors before it went down. To make matters worse, it took airport officials hours to get a webpage up directing traffic to Twitter, which many have credited as being the only useful resource after the crash. Charles Schuler, head of external communications at SFO, called the eight-year-old SFO website "ancient," by modern standards. In August, the airport website moved to an Amazon cloud-based platform in order to provide necessary redundancies in an emergency. 

Other areas of improvement for airport emergency response include the need for a standard triage protocol between San Francisco and San Mateo counties, integration of any additional medical evacuation resources, keeping airport restaurants and services open 24 hours for victims, and deterring airport hotels from price gouging (some passengers reportedly had to pay between $400 and $500 for a room). 

The review did not make any mention of the young Chinese student that was struck and killed by a San Francisco Fire Department vehicle. A San Mateo County court has already ruled that the San Francisco Fire Department and the firefighter driving the vehicle will not be held criminally responsible for the girl's death. 

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is scheduled to hold hearings on the Asiana crash in December. The full NTSB report on the Asiana crash investigation is not expected to be released until next year.