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Case Studies:

Emergency Response:
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 as needed.

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 as needed.

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.


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