Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Aviation Teleconference Takes Center Stage

We had the pleasure of listening to the first of 10 Teleconferences in commemoration of the 10th Anniversary of September 11th being put on by the American Bar Association’s Tort, Trial & Insurance Section’s Disaster Preparedness and Response Initiative in conjunction with the West LegalEd Center. Today’s panel, focused the audience on where we are today in preparations for aviation disasters. The panel kicked off with Steven Predmore, Vice President & Chief Safety Officer of JetBlue Airways discussing how Jet Blue trains its employees for handling any type of disaster, be it natural or man made. Out of Jet Blue’s approximately 13000 employees, approximately 1200 employees are trained to play some role in disaster response. These employees conduct monthly notification drills, “table top” exercises and a full scale drill every two years, inviting insurers, NTSB officials, FAA officials, outside counsel and airline partners and manufacturers to observe and comment. Because there are so few airline crashes, JetBlue uses other emergencies, such as natural disasters, to stay fresh and current on the drills. Ellyn Slow, Senior Vice President-Risk Manager of NetJets, Inc., discussed the challenges the challenges faced in implementing disaster preparedness programs for corporate clients and the importance of disaster preparedness. Like Jet Blue, NetJets developed a formal emergency response in the aftermath of September 11th. That response included establishing three command centers with dataports, as well as retaining media consultants to train key executives in learning how to prepare for the media frenzy following any disaster. Net Jets has 25 personnel trained on notification teams, as well as 100 personnel trained on family assistance teams, and has retained an NTSB inspector as part of its response team. Like Jet Blue, Net Jets conducts annual full fledged drills involving media consultants, underwriters, etc., as well as table top drills.

Matt Barkett, a PR consultant to the airlines, echoed the theme of emergency preparedness stating it is critical for a PR consultant to be part of the emergency preparedness drill, be it table top drills or otherwise, because communication is so important in a crisis. Mr. Barkett, leader of Dix and Eatton’s Crisis Communications practice, participates in disaster drills with his corporate clients and finds that preparation for a crisis definitely improves your ability to respond should a crisis occur. You do not want to encounter the unexpected in a crisis; you want to have prepared for it. The NTSB limitations on communications to the media was discussed, as well as the fact that should any criminal act be suspected, the NTSB will turn its investigation over to the FBI. Erik Grosof, assistant to the Director of Operations of NTSB, discussed what NTSB has been doing in terms of disaster preparedness since September 11, 2001. According to Mr. Grosof, the relations that NTSB had in place with the airlines before September 11th were definitely helpful in managing the disaster following September 11th. After every accident NTSB investigates, the NTSB calls representatives from that industry together to roundtable what were the causes, what the industry could do better to prevent similar accidents from occurring in the future, etc. NTSB is not regulatory, per Mr. Grosof, “we are here to make it better.” As for drills, Mr. Grosof cautioned that you need to make the mistakes in your drills so you know how to solve those mistakes and move forward, “ Don’t say we had a drill and it was perfect, it’s more effective for disaster preparedness if it wasn’t perfect.” Marc Moller, partner in the law firm of Kreindler & Kreindler LLP spoke of his 40 years of experience in representing the families of airline disasters and commented on the September 11th Victim’s Compensation Fund established by Congress in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.

David Nelson, Assistant Vice President of Global Aerospace, discussed the role of insurance in disaster planning. According to Mr. Nelson, Global Aerospace, which insures a a number of airlines and has substantial claim experience, can assist the airlines in preparing for a disaster in terms of insurance. The biggest challenge companies face in responding to a disaster, Mr. Nelson said, is the lack of an emergency plan in place to do so. Many companies just have no emergency response plan in place at all, and if they do, they do not have an aviation disaster response plan in place. The time to practice an emergency response plan is not during the disaster. We thank our charming and very experienced moderator, Desmond Barry of Condon & Forsyth for a very interesting panel and invite all of you to join us for the nine additional programs in the TIPS Disaster Preparedness and Response Teleconference Series in commemoration of the 10th Anniversary of September 11th by registering here today. The series continues tomorrow and runs daily through September 19, 2011.

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