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JFK Airport Banking On New Emergency Operation Center To Prevent Weather Related Chaos

After JFK Airport bungled its handling of flight schedules and separated passengers from their luggage for days, even weeks, in the wake of a "bomb cyclone" Nor’easter on January 4th, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey promised some changes.

The most high-profile change was the creation of an Emergency Operation Center (EOC), where every agency that works at the airport, as well as four out of the six terminal operators, is staffed during bad weather. The Center is equipped with multiple flatscreens showing live feeds of planes in air, CCTV footage from inside and outside the terminals, and real-time views of other parts of the airport.

On Thursday, the agency created a Potemkin Village-like scene for reporters to get a view of what it might look like when in effect, and former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who was hired to investigate the failures, outlined some of his 50 recommendations for the agency for how to prevent a total meltdown next time there’s a major snowstorm.

“There was inadequate overarching leadership by JFK management during the storm itself," LaHood said.

He described JFK, which is made up of six terminals operated by six different entities as “the most different of all” major airports (JFK gives the terminal operators "a great deal of autonomy" in running things), and pointed out that every major airport, like LAX, O’Hare and Heathrow, already have Emergency Operation Centers where decision-making can be centralized.

One of the biggest problems stemming from January's bombogenesis was international flights landing without a gate to disembark passengers. Since then, the Port Authority has ordered operators to share staff and gates during bad weather. The new Emergency Operation Center was put to use during two other storms this year.

Other suggestions from LaHood included offering real-time information (for instance, a major snow removal company only learned the airport was closing through news reports, while airport station managers only heard about the closing from pilots); giving JFK management staff access to the surveillance cameras; and making it easier to reunite passengers with lost baggage.

There were also some airline-specific proposals, like cancelling flights in advance of storms; waiving rebooking fees during bad weather to encourage passengers to change their plans early; and delaying passenger and baggage check-in when flight delays or cancellations are likely.

You can see all recommendations in LaHood's report (PDF). The Port Authority didn’t provide the final cost of LaHood’s report, which was issued through his law firm DLA Piper.

The Port Authority also said it hopes to someday make its EOC a 24-hour operation that could handle weather and other security related issues at the airport.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a $10 billion overhaul for JFK Airport last year.

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