Secretary LaHood made public at a press conference at JFK Airport the results of the investigation into the severe problems JFK Airport faced during the winter storm Grayson. In January the storm severely impacted JFK Airport operations by the horrendous winter weather. Diverted passengers to other airports, separated travelers from the checked luggage, travelers stuck on airplane on the runway, and freezing temps delaying flights all made operations very difficult for several days. The Port Authority was unhappy with international airlines and companies that faced the current system in place that allowed for troublesome severe circumstances to the airline traveler.
In attendance with LaHood were Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton, and Huntley Lawrence, Aviation Director of the Port Authority. In the room were the General and Deputy Managers of JFK Airport along with dozens of individuals tasked with running the various departments and private terminals of the airport, many of who were interviewed for their input.
As a result of the problems in January, LaHood was called in by the Port Authority to conduct an investigation into the hows and whys of the issues. Having just released the report at the press conference, LaHood cited two major steps taken to guarantee this impact would not happen again; establishing the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) which would be the umbrella for much needed coordination and command and the creation of public baggage services in every terminal. Overall this will create greater communication among all critical airport partners and provide a safer and more dependable travel experience.
The shining gem as the result of the investigation is the EOC. This central operations center houses individuals from airline, terminals, service partners, emergency services, law enforcement, CBP, TSA and all agencies that have a role in the daily operations of the airport. Said Cotton, “ If there is a problem there is instant notification in real time to provide resources to handle any emergency”. Currently the EOC “stands up” when such an emergency arises”. According to all who spoke, the goal is to evolve into an Airport Operations Center (AOC) as well and work 24–7. In fact new funding was just approved to expand and modernize even more to achieve that goal.
Lawrence echoed this by stating that the EOC is the result of stakeholder input and will continue to be a collaborative effort to make sure real-time solutions are available during emergency situations. He pointed to the technology all around the room filled with the large and small display and computer screens showing everything from terminal live-feed cameras, air traffic visuals, transportation schematics and airport property video feeds.
He was enthusiastic in explaining each of the duty areas in the large command room.
LaHood said, “Breakdowns like this will never happen again. They were totally inacceptable for one of the busiest and most diverse airport in the world”. He laid out almost 50 recommendations for airport management in a 55 page document presented to the Port Authority. LaHood said they interviewed over 100 people, who were hard working professionals and credited everyone who worked hard, “recognizing their efforts” during the January storm. “We studied all aspects of the airport that helped us understand the problems that would help prevent them from ever occurring again”, he said.
The Secretary concluded by stating that “JFK has a substantial way to go to where we want to be and needs to be” adding that the implementation of the reforms are well under way. He promised a commitment for JFK to be the best in class in response to storm events in the future.
Lawrence also was proud to state that the EOC is flexible and scalable and ready to stand up to any situation from weather to and any other emergencies with the collaboration of all airport terminal operator, law enforcement and all other local, state and federal partners.