Sept. 11, 2001 Media Relations at Oakland Airport
The Challenge: Jo Murray is under contract to Oakland
International Airport to be on call to assist the in-house public information
staff in emergencies. On the day of Sept. 11, the airport’s primary
public information representative was at a conference in Canada. Jo's
pager went off shortly after 6 a.m., minutes after the first plane struck
the World Trade Center.
The Solution: Careful planning, beginning months before
Sept. 11, paid off on this day. For several years, Jo had participated
in emergency training drills at the airport. She also held Federal Aviation
Authority-required security clearances -- which proved to be a necessity
when the airport was closed to all others.
After Jo received the early morning page from a television station, she
gathered information from airport officials and answered reporters’
calls by cell phone as she drove to the airport’s Emergency Command
Center. A Web designer was put on standby to update information on the
airport’s home page throughout the day, and other staff members
from the affiliated local public relations agency rearranged their schedules
They set up a system under which Jo usually gathered information and drafted
press releases while an associate fielded media telephone calls. They
used three cell phones plus land lines to handle as many as 100 calls
an hour, working 16-hour days. Media briefings were held at least once
a day, with some briefings attracting more than 30 reporters. Jo supervised
other airport staff members who pitched into help and juggled assignments
The airport opened an emergency press room. When airport restaurants closed
after flights were suspended, the airport supplied a complimentary buffet
for reporters, who were assigned to stay at the airport and otherwise
would have gone hungry.
Communication with the public involved far more than just the news media.
Among those who needed to stay informed were local government officials,
airport telephone operators, information booth volunteers, parking lot
attendants and airline personnel. Jo and her associates played a role
in all of this.
Results: The emergency planning worked. Our team stepped
in on a moment’s notice -- even outside of normal business hours.
We responded to media inquiries quickly, and freed other airport officials
to concentrate on their primary jobs. Best of all, our network gave us
the flexibility to handle a major crisis for one client while making certain
that the critical needs of other clients also were met.