Helping the Other Victims of September 11: Gander Uses Multiple EOCs to Deal With 38 Diverted Flights

November 2002 (VOL. 20, NO. 3)

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On September 11, 2001, after seeing three hijacked jets turned into missiles and a fourth crash in Pennsylvania, the United States ordered all U.S.-registered aircraft to land at the nearest airport and closed its airspace. When the decision was made, hundreds of commercial flights were over the Pacific or Atlantic en route to North America. Some had sufficient fuel to turn back. Most needed a North American airport to take them and that airport had to be in Canada. The Canadian government, its air traffic control system and Canadian airports were presented with a fait accompli. They had to accept hundreds of aircraft knowing-given what happened-that one or more of them might be carrying terrorists or be under terrorist control. Worried about the possibility that some of those jets might attack major Canadian cities, the federal government ordered that these jets land at smaller communities along Canada’s East Coast. Two Canadian cities-Halifax and Vancouver-received the most diverted flights on September 11. But when Gander’s population-10,347-is considered its intake was proportionally far greater. Gander took in 38 flights and 6,600 passengers, a 63 per cent increase in its population, compared to a two per cent increase in Halifax, less than a third of a one per cent increase for Vancouver. This article is about how Gander handled that situation. As will be shown, the community activated a number of emergency operations centers (EOCs)-and each ended up managing one aspect of the response. Though the airport was the key, the result was a coordinated system that ran smoothly without any single agency taking charge. This article describes how that system came about, why it worked, and how Gander avoided problems that often occur with multiple EOCs and emergent groups.