WW89 February 5, 2020: The Airport Community as One Team

Wednesday Wisdom Series February 5, 2020

February 5, 2020

Here is your Wednesday Wisdom series from the Family Assistance Foundation, reminding you that a fully-integrated approach for assisting survivors of traumatic loss involves a balance of head and heart. Wednesday Wisdom is written and copyrighted by Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D., and distributed by the Family Assistance Education & Research Foundation Inc., www.fafonline.org. Reprint is available with written permission from the Foundation.

The Airport Community as One Team


In these modern times of instant media communications, how airport management responds will be witnessed and judged by many. 

-Scott Maurer, Father of Lorin Maurer who died in the crash of Colgan/Continental Flt 3407

    Over the past couple of years, the Foundation has seen significant growth in airport memberships—and increased opportunities to participate in airport training. Whereas airport plans were once geared toward physical safety only, today, the humanitarian assistance side of the plans involve planning and preparation for emotional safety as well as physical. In keeping with the Foundation’s training model, when we conduct joint programs with member airports, the inclusion of survivors is at the forefront.

    The Foundation’s approach to training includes survivors (passengers, family members, and employees), as we believe they are the best experts on survivor assistance. Key areas that are evolving with survivor in-put include improvements in early communication methods, reception and reunification centers, and all crucial areas that impact customers, passengers, and the entire airport community. The Foundation maintains a list of survivors of traumatic events who not only provide guidance to our leadership, but also serve as presenters at meetings and conferences, including airport workshops.


I don’t remember much of my initial training, but I do remember the survivors we saw on video in our Care Team training.

-Delta Air Lines Care Team Member who assisted family survivors in Swissair 111, Sept. 2, 1998

    Hearing survivors describe their personal experiences is a most effective way to train. This is because hearing the words, along with the emotions of the speaker imprints on the emotional brain of the responder. This emotional imprinting is fundamental in the learning and memory concepts that form the basis of the Human Services Response™ Training used in all Foundation training. The compassion felt by team members as they listen to the survivors tell their stories, transfers to future interactions between those being trained and other survivors.

    In 1998, Swissair crashed off the coast of Halifax, Nova Scotia, resulting in 229 deaths. Code share partner Delta Air Lines provided assistance to families of their 58 passengers and one flight attendant on board, in addition to helping Swissair with families traveling in and out of the US. In an interview with a Care Team member who was assigned to assist two young siblings whose parents were killed, we saw an example of the value of survivor testimony. The team member shared the following: “I don’t remember much of my initial training, but I do remember the survivors we saw on video in the training. I just kept seeing their faces and it gave me some idea of what these survivors must be feeling. I just felt so bad for the young people whose parents died in the crash.”

    Because the Foundation appreciates the effectiveness of survivors as trainers, a list of survivor speakers is made available to our airport partners. While many are associated with aviation tragedies, the list also includes survivors of other traumatic events, including shootings and terrorist attacks.

That then speaks to how best to prepare. 
-Scott Maurer

    Scott and Terry Maurer lost their 30-year-old daughter Lorin, in the Colgan/Continental Airlines crash where a total of 50 people died. The aircraft crashed on landing, striking a home and taking the life of the man who owned the house. In the ten plus years following the crash, The Maurer’s, along with several other family survivors have been involved in creating change with lessons learned from the crash, including pilot rest breaks and improved training requirements for regional airlines. In addition to this, Scott and Terry have generously given time in guiding the Foundation’s processes and procedures for crisis response involving families. They also volunteer to directly assist family members when the Foundation is called on by corporate members to assist in the aftermath of a crisis.

    Scott and Terry have participated in numerous meetings and training programs with airport members. Scott was recently asked about his reaction to the increase in airports joining the Foundation and including him and other survivors in their training, planning and preparation for crisis response. His comments follow:


    First it is great news that more and more airports are wanting to be      prepared to provide family assistance to those affected whenever a tragic event happens on site or involves airlines/aircrafts arriving or departing from their facilities. It is highly likely that in the initial minutes/hours following such an event the airport will be the first on the scene. In these modern times of instant media communications, how airport management responds will be witnessed and judged by many. So again, GREAT NEWS these people are wanting to be prepared.

    That then speaks to how best to prepare. Given there have been many unfortunate tragic events before we have the benefit to develop plans and practice from those experiences. But plans/practice is still not the real thing. Fortunately, there are survivors from those previous tragic events who are willing to share their experience. This sharing puts a face in front of those wanting to prepare which helps make the training as real as possible. Survivor testimony is tangible and uses more human senses to provide a better real training experience for the trainee. 


Because you never know when the day before is the day before. Plan for tomorrow.

-Bobby Akart

    While once airlines and first responders were responsible for handling all crises at an airport, terrorist attacks at the Brussels Airport, and the shootings at Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood Airports, have changed airport response models forever. This new era demands that airports plan, exercise, and train as an entire community of stake holders in order to meet these unpredictable challenges.

    Airport leaders who include survivors in their planning, exercises, and training provide an extra advantage to their community-wide responders. As survivor Scott Maurer said, putting real faces into the preparation makes the activities “real”. When compassionate responders, like those being trained are given exposure to real survivors, there is a winning formula that puts that airport community at a distinct advantage.

    Any organization interested in having a survivor assist in training or preparation for crisis response, should contact Dede Young (dede.young@fafonline.org) and provide her with details. Whereas most survivors do not charge, other than expenses, should there be an exception, it can be discussed during the booking.       

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