JFK Opens New Emergency Operations Center After Paralyzing January Storm

John F. Kennedy International Airport from the air

By Anna Breuer on 4 June 2018
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John F. Kennedy International Airport, which was paralyzed for days after the “bomb cyclone” Nor’easter on January 4, unveiled an Emergency Operations Center, or EOC, that will coordinate operations during bad weather events and other emergency situations.

The airport, which is unique in that it has six completely separate terminals, operated by six independent entities, each with a great deal of autonomy, created the EOC after an independent study conducted by former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. LaHood, who was hired to investigate the multiple failures that occurred in January, produced a report with 50 recommendations that would help the agency avoid another total meltdown the next time there’s a major storm.

The goal of the EOC is to ensure swift communication between all stakeholders at the airport.

The report blames poor management at JFK.

“There was inadequate overarching leadership by JFK management during the [January] storm itself,” said LaHood at an event intended to show off the EOC, who pointed out that other major airports such as Chicago O’Hare International and London Heathrow already have EOC-like facilities.

The EOC is staffed by every agency that operates at the airport including the Transportation Security Administration, which operates the airport’s security checkpoints; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department; Bombardier Transportation, which operates the AirTrain JFK; and four of the six terminal operators. The EOC is equipped with multiple displays that show live feeds of aircraft in the air, CCTV video from inside and outside the terminals, and real-time views of other parts of the airport.

“We are committed to strengthening JFK airport’s operating procedures during winter storms so that the breakdowns experienced last January never happen again,” said Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton in April.

Other recommendations from LaHood’s report, which was released through DLA Piper, the law firm where LaHood works, include ensuring information such as airport closings is shared in real time, giving managers at JFK access to all surveillance camera footage, and making it easier to reunite passengers with lost or delayed luggage.

LaHood also recommended that airlines cancel more flights in advance of major storms; waive rebooking fees to encourage travelers to change their plans in advance of a storm, a practice that is relatively common; and delay passenger and baggage check-in when flight delays or cancellations are likely.

The Port Authority said it hopes to operate the EOC on a full-time basis at some point instead of just operating it in emergency situations.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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