I joined hundreds of millions of other Americans that day in a shared sense of profound anguish and a glimmer of hope.
I couldn’t stop thinking about my children and grandchildren. I wished they lived closer instead of hundreds of miles away. I wished I could hug them until they begged me to let go. I wished I could help them understand the suddenly uncertain world in which they now lived.
A couple of quick phone calls to them would have to suffice. There was work to do.
Key staff in the city of Pasadena’s emergency operations center set to work in our various areas of expertise. My role as the city’s public information officer, AKA Pasadena PIO, was to lead my PIO Team – my Public Affairs Office staff plus departmental PIOs – as we managed rumor control, community outreach and reliable, ongoing communications with media.
Pasadena’s police chief at the time, Bernard Melekian, along with then-City Manager Cynthia Kurtz, brought together the city’s Executive Leadership Team, of which I was a member, and told us behind closed doors that an Alaska Airlines jet reportedly had been highjacked over the Pacific Northwest by terrorists and was making its way to the greater Los Angeles area with no specific destination named. Two high-visibility local properties were identified as possible targets: Pasadena City Hall and the Rose Bowl Stadium.
It was critical for us to keep our wits about us and become more focused and vigilant with every second that passed. Soon after, the FBI confirmed that the Alaska Airlines scare was unfounded. I have never heard a deeper and more collective sigh of relief.
Six nights later, after a city council meeting, I was standing alone outside Pasadena City Hall’s grand entrance when a gadfly who had not gotten the attention he craved during the meeting snuck up directly behind me and shouted, in his booming voice, “Let’s just bomb City Hall!” and walked away. I was shaking when I called Chief Melekian immediately.
The next morning, two police officers paid the man a visit with an ultimatum: apologize to me or pay the consequences for making terrorist threats.
Ann Erdman is the retired public information officer for the city of Pasadena.