U.S. Customs officials said Tuesday that they had traced the source of last weekend’s system outage that left 17,000 international passengers stranded in airplanes to a malfunctioning network interface card on a single desktop computer in the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX.
The card, which allows computers to connect to a local area network, experienced a partial failure that started about 12:50 p.m. Saturday, slowing down the system, said Jennifer Connors, a chief in the office of field operations for the Customs and Border Protection agency.
As data overloaded the system, a domino effect occurred with other computer network cards, eventually causing a total system failure a little after 2 p.m., Connors said.
“All indications are there was no hacking, no tampering, no terrorist link, nothing like that,” she said. “It was an internal problem” contained to the Los Angeles International Airport system.
The system was restored about nine hours later, only to give out again late Sunday for about 80 minutes, until about 1:15 a.m. Monday. The second outage was caused by a power supply failure, Connors said. But customs officials are investigating whether the Saturday incident may have played a role in Sunday’s outage.
Los Angeles City Council members Bill Rosendahl and Janice Hahn called Tuesday for an immediate report from Los Angeles World Airports, which runs LAX, on actions taken by the customs agency to permanently correct the computer malfunction problem. They also called for World Airports to report on contingency plans for working with customs and other officials to properly deal with passengers in the event of another such breakdown.
Nancy Castles, a spokeswoman for the airports agency, said airport and customs officials are discussing how to handle a similar incident should it occur. The customs agency “has total federal jurisdiction on whether or not to allow people on or off the planes,” Castles said.
During the incident, the customs agency authorized airport officials to supply food, water and even diapers to stranded passengers, as well as fuel to keep air-conditioning systems running on planes.
Also Tuesday, Rep Jane Harman (D-Venice) requested a comprehensive briefing from customs officials in Washington early next week.
Customs spokesman Michael Fleming said the agency had formed a group in Washington to study the system malfunction: “how it happened, how we’re going to address it . . . . “
A plan was already in place this year to update and replace customs’ entire information technology system at major international airports, with work at LAX scheduled to be completed by October 2008, Connors said.
“We’re buying new equipment, buying new switches, buying new cabling,” she said.
Customs computer systems have a life of about four years, and “at LAX a lot of them were at their four-year phase, where they were ready to be replaced,” Connors said.