Wednesday, September 17, 2008

FAA History Lesson -- September 17 (08)

From the FAA Historical Chronology, 1926-1996...

”Sep 17, 1989: Hurricane Hugo slammed into the U.S. Virgin Islands before moving on to Puerto Rico and then South Carolina. Numerous FAA facilities in the storm's path suffered damage and service interruption. Destruction was especially heavy in the Virgin Islands, where two airport towers were badly damaged and a radar destroyed. Southern Region Headquarters took charge of the recovery effort, which included establishment of temporary mobile towers on the islands. The agency's DC-9 carried relief supplies to the Virgin Islands and evacuated four FAA employees and 35 dependents, as well as other Federal personnel and their families. Damage to FAA facilities on the mainland was less severe than in the Caribbean, although many employees suffered personal losses. Agency personnel established a relief fund to assist their coworkers affected by the storm. By the end of September most airports in the devastated areas had resumed operation. “

I’ve got you a little personal history to put with today’s entry. After Hugo slammed into the Virgin Islands, it made its way to Charleston, SC and tore it up too. I worked for NATCA’s Southern Region VP at the time -- Lee Riley -- and he had decided to leave town and get married (or something or other) that week. Anyway, I was in charge and Charleston's Facility Representative -- Rodeny Turner -- got word to me that they needed help.

Keep in mind, NATCA was about 2 years old at the time. That explains how I was left in charge of the Southern Region. There wasn’t much to be in charge of and we sure didn’t expect any emergency labor-managment relations to take place over the weekend. We didn’t think we would need to be hurricane responders either. It wasn’t exactly in the job description. Fate had other plans.

I called up Steve Bell and Ray Spickler -- NATCA’s President and VP (respectively) -- and said, “Send money.” They scraped together $2,500 dollars (they never said so but I believe it came out of their own pockets because NATCA didn’t have any) and wired it down to me. I grabbed my wife (bless her heart), threw a wad of cash at her as she walked into the grocery store and told her to spend it. Diapers, bottled water, canned food, first-aid kits, dog food, whatever she thought they might need. Last I saw she had two bag boys with the big sleds they use to restock the shelves, following her around the store and piling it up.

I went and rented a big truck, rented every generator I could afford and bought a few gas cans (and the gas) for each. We loaded it all up and two other NATCA members -- Terry Shell and Ken Cook -- drove it down to Charleston.

You might wonder why a union had to step up and throw together a relief effort. It’s simple. Because the FAA didn’t. They just insisted that we show up for work. It didn’t matter if you didn’t have any electricity or if you had a tree fall through the roof. It didn’t even matter if you had to wait 4 hours in line to get gas for your car. Just show up.

Don’t believe me ? Read this over at The FAA Follies.

NATCA still puts together relief efforts for controllers during hurricanes and other natural disasters. That’s how we knew ahead of everyone else that FEMA was a no show for Katrina. And it’s how we know there was no gas within 200 miles of Houston yesterday. I’ll bet the airplanes are still flying though. And I bet the controllers are still keeping them safe.

Don Brown
September 17, 2008

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