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As Tornadoes Closed In, Air Traffic Controllers Stayed At Their Stations

April 28: Norma Carpenter, 71, stands in the wreckage of her living room in Catoosa County, Ga. A tornado swept through the day before.
April 28: Norma Carpenter, 71, stands in the wreckage of her living room in Catoosa County, Ga. A tornado swept through the day before.

After all the attention given to air traffic controllers caught sleeping on the job in recent months, it only seems fair to point to this report from ABC News that tells how controllers at the Atlanta Air Route Traffic Control Center in Hampton, Ga., stayed at their work stations on April 27 to guide planes around the tornadoes that were pummeling much of the South.

And they stayed even though the twisters were headed right at them and at the homes of their families.

"The scary part comes when we get alerts from our supervisors that the tornadoes are heading towards us at work," controller Richard Harrison tells ABC. The network writes that "as Harrison and his partner continued to try to clear the airspace, everyone deemed nonessential took shelter in the basement. A handful of controllers, including Harrison, were left. And they were "hoping that the roof won't be torn down."

One of the tornadoes struck just two miles from the controllers' center.

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.