Anyone who has ever played baseball as a child or coached as an adult understands the meaning of “T-Ball,” where a baseball is placed on a stationary stand (a “T”) for the hitter to hit before learning how to hit a pitched baseball. The first day of “T-Ball” also typically comes with basic lessons that remain for life such as keep your glove on the ground when fielding a ground ball – the worst mistake any player can make is to allow a ball that is hit on the ground to go under their glove.
Management – particularly for public institutions such as Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, the world’s busiest airport – has similar principles that you would learn early in a “Management 101” course, be it in a business school or in the school of hard knocks. Analogous to keeping your glove on the ground when fielding a ground ball in baseball, managers of public institutions need to be prepared and practice for various events that are foreseeable if not likely.
I was stuck for almost 6 hours on the tarmac in Atlanta last Sunday, 12/17/17. The passengers and Delta flight crew dealt with our 6 hours on the tarmac with smiles and good humor. What was utterly shocking, however, was the complete lack of preparedness once everyone deplaned. While there have been reports of announcements earlier in the day, from the minute passengers walked off the jet bridge at approximately 7:45 pm to the time we found – eventually – a way out of the airport via MARTA (Atlanta’s subway system), there was not a single person, not one, directing passengers. No information, no officials directing people where to go, no one with placards or vests explaining where the exits were, nothing. Elderly passengers in canes were slowly walking up multiple flights of non-working escalators without direction, not knowing what the top would bring. This was a full 7 hours after the event that took out the world’s busiest airport’s power. In 7 hours, the airport and the city had not mobilized to direct passengers and ease the confusion and stress.
This was shocking.
The following video was taken outside of the secure area and it depicts passengers walking aimlessly and with no order in the darkness:
While no one could have predicted that a fire would take out the electricity at the airport, it is not out of the realm of possibilities that a terrorist attack – be it a direct attack or an electromagnetic pulse – could take out the main power supply of any municipality.
What was absolutely egregious was that there was no plan in place for something like this.
Any airport or municipality should practice frequently for a potential terrorist event and know like clockwork what to do were something like this to happen, regardless of the cause. Workers should know where to go, areas should be pre-designated to direct passengers and explain what to do. This should be practiced and practiced and practiced for any event, be it a terrorist attack or a fire taking out the power supply. While most municipalities are resource constrained, often starved, this is not an overly expensive endeavor – it involves planning and practice.
This is Management 101. Be prepared. Just like first day of T-Ball. Keep your glove to the ground.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of sitting at a dinner next to Jim Goodwin, the CEO of United Airlines on 9/11. I asked him about what it was like being CEO on that nightmare of a day and what would he have done differently. He said that he was extraordinarily proud of his people on that day, that they had a plan in place were something like 9/11 to happen, one that they practiced over and over at least once a month. He said that priority number one was getting all of the planes on the ground to keep the passengers safe and that his United employees executed the plan flawlessly, just like they had practiced over and over. However, the one part of the plan that they never thought about was what to do once the hundreds of planes and thousands of people were on the ground. This was his one regret: that so many people suffered from being on the tarmac for so long without a plan in place.
We clearly have learned little in the 16 years since 9/11.
The City of Atlanta and the officials of Atlanta Hartsfield Airport should be ashamed.
Management 101. The first day of T-Ball.