Tuesday, September 12

Designing A Free Future

We didn't post on 9/11 yesterday, perhaps it is because we remember it all too well. Five years ago, we developed and implemented a crisis communication plan for the Southern Nevada Hotel Concierge Association (SNHCA) within a half hour as the crisis began to unfold.

To assist these dedicated professionals in their struggle to answer thousands of questions and help people find alternative transportation home from Las Vegas, we transformed our commercial writing services company into a fax broadcast news center, collecting information from news sources, internal airport contacts, and transportation sources. Then, every fifteen minutes on the first day, every hour on subsequent days, we would send a blast fax to about 30 hotel concierge desks throughout the city.

While the system seemed archaic, it proved very effective. Not all concierges had access to a television or computer so we had to adapt. Since all of them had a fax machine, it was the most logical form of media distribution.

The consolidated information, for weeks, became their alternative breaking news source. We had information many major networks did not have, mostly out of necessity. We had to think beyond covering the crisis and focus on finding solutions for visitors. From the concierge desks, the blast faxes filtered up to hotel management.

In the weeks and months that followed, for our company, 9/11 had a tremendous impact. We lost a few clients, irritated by our decision to be part of the solution (first with the fax broadcasts and then with a Liberty Las Vegas campaign, which was backed by Mayor Oscar Goodman and designed to stimulate the local economy) rather than catering to commercial deadlines. We had to abandon an online literary project, called GroundZero, because its brand became symbolic for New York. And, it marked the beginning of the end for Key News * Las Vegas, a publication we managed for the SNHCA after several advertisers cancelled their contracts. (It took a few years, but we did successfully salvage the publication and sold it.)

So all in all, I don't talk about it much, especially because as much as we were involved, the impact seemed to me somewhat insignificant when compared to other stories I came across as a business person and as a journalist. I made that decision weeks after the tragedy when I was interviewing someone from Aon and 9/11 came up. She mentioned she lost her office ... along with 20 some co-workers.

Instead, while we'll never forget, we prefer to focus on the future. And that is what I would like to leave you with today.

The McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum is the first Web site in the U.S. that is dedicated exclusively to the topic of freedom and the First Amendment. Its doors opened in April 2006.

Communication Arts magazine wrote it up best: Not only does it (The Freedom Museum) do a great job of defining the role that the First Amendment plays in the basic freedoms of Americans, it does it in a way that makes the historical content palatable to teenagers (its primary audience). I guess I'm young at heart. I loved it anyway.

Sometimes, in the face of tragedy, it's worthwhile to consider the benefits. Freedom, not security, is both the cause and the reward. And when it comes to freedom, the First Amendment is always a great place to start. God bless.

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