JFK Airport is prepared for storms with a new command center, the Port Authority says

Port Authority Aviation Director Huntley Lawrence explains how  JFK Airport's Emergency Operations Center works.
Port Authority Aviation Director Huntley Lawrence explains how JFK Airport’s Emergency Operations Center works. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Drew Angerer

The Port Authority said it has made strides in improving Kennedy Airport’s response to extreme weather and other emergencies since a January snowstorm left thousands of passengers stranded, frustrated and confused.

The airport has added an Emergency Operations Center — dubbed EOC — which helps 26 JFK administrators collaborate ahead of challenging weather, officials said while showcasing the command center at a press conference Thursday.

“With all stake holders in the same room, the EOC ensures swift exchange and enables a real-time, coordinated and fully-formed response during a storm,” Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton said.

Before the January storm, the airport’s various factions, such as TSA, AirTrain, and terminal bosses, conversed separately during these situations. The pitfalls of that method were on display when passengers were confused and stranded and luggage was lost that day.

Cotton said the new office has helped the team improve their responses. When nor’easters hit the city in March, Port Authority Aviation Director Huntley Lawrence said the EOC quickly assembled executives and airport administrators to plan and accommodate flights.

Lawrence noted that this help staff work as a team when they were alerted that an international flight had a mechanical failure during one of the storms.

“EOC participants coordinated to insure that passengers and baggage were unloaded without delays,” Lawrence said.

Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who the Port Authority tapped to examine the airport’s procedures following the storm, said the command center has been moving the airport in the right direction. He recommended the authority continue to bolster it in the future.

LaHood noted that several other major airports, like LAX, O’Hare and Heathrow, have more expansive versions of the EOC that include daily meetings and planning for emergencies beyond the weather, such as a mass shooting.

“This EOC is so important. If you get a group of people gathered in this room, they become team with one mission to make sure travelers get where they need to get with their bags,” LaHood said. “Nothing will stop them.”

Lawrence said the Port Authority is already in the process of expanding the command center into a so-called Airport Operations Center, which would be overseen by a general manager charged with supervising all aspects of the airport’s response to unforeseen events.

“It’s our next step and we hope to have it within the next year,” LaHood said.