Managing and Resolving Airport and Community Disputes

Airport conflict managementDeveloping a comprehensive community relations plan is an important first step towards establishing a conduit with your community. This plan needs to provide mechanisms which most effectively provide outreach into local communities. The community relations plan should be defined in terms of goals and objectives. It should identify target audiences, methodology and mechanisms for measuring success. Focus groups, workshops, public meetings, direct mail and airport friends groups are some of the tools that have proven to be effective. Community compatibility can be viewed on several levels. Through community involvement and public participation, the community is given ownership of a project, at least to some degree. Through workshops, hearings, small group meetings and one-on-one involvement, interested community members are provided opportunities to comment, provide input, and in some cases, determine the aspects of a project. A community relations plan can help you gain ownership and future support for airport projects within the community you serve.

Being Involved in Your Community

A good community relations program will help the surrounding communities better understand the airport and its projects by involving them in airport activities and making the airport an integral part of community activities. Community involvement includes outreach efforts such as establishing an airport users advisory group, a speakers bureau, and holding community events on the airport. It includes involvement in local civic organizations and sponsoring local youth organizations. Community relations also includes providing an effective community response system to ensure timely and effective feedback for anyone who calls the response line with a comment or concern. Most important, a good community relations program makes members of the community feel like the airport is their airport.

Dealing with a Crisis

Community involvementEven with an effective community relations program, an airport is often faced with a crisis. “Crisis” is defined as any community situation which has escalated to the degree that it has the potential of jeopardizing an airport project or the operation of the airport itself. One of the most important aspects for resolving a crisis or airport conflict is recognizing the warning signs. Most community and airport conflicts do not develop overnight. It is important to maintain communication channels with neighbors and key stakeholders to be able to address issues as they arise.

Resolving Issues through a Working Group or Mediation

When an issue escalates into a significant conflict, it may be necessary to establish an ad hoc working group. This should be a group that represents all interests in the conflict. This group can develop a process to identify and resolve the issues. This ad hoc process is often successful in addressing airport and community issues. However, there are instances when a more formal mediation process is required. At this point, a professional mediator is probably an important element for success.


Difficult Meetings

The most common reaction to a crisis is the "fight or flight" syndrome. This is when an individual feels backed into a corner and acts defensively, or avoids dealing with the problem, sometimes denying there is an issue. Directly addressing the issue with appropriate officials, concerned interests, and the media is often the difference between a disaster and an averted crisis. Many times in today’s highly publicized and politicized environment, how the issue itself is resolved is less important than how you handle the crisis. For purposes of community relations, we define "crisis" as any community situation which has escalated to the degree that it has the potential of jeopardizing an agency project or the operation of the agency itself.

Crisis Management Guidelines

Being prepared to respond efficiently and effectively in the event of a crisis is crucial. Whether it is negative community reaction to a project, or to the agency itself, it is important to have set guidelines which staff understand and can follow before a crisis arises. While every community incident is unique and there is no way to predict how a community or resident will respond to a given situation, the following should be considered in developing Crisis Management Guidelines:

  • Assign a spokesperson(s) who is authorized to talk with the media and public officials
  • Talk with local officials, including FAA, airport commission and city council members as early as possible
  • Provide the facts, history and rationale
  • Correct inaccuracies and misinformation
  • Alert the network stakeholders, such as Chamber of Commerce and Homeowner Associations
  • Avoid assigning blame
  • Avoid defensiveness
  • Be in the problem-solving mode with the desire to correct misinformation
  • Do the necessary homework to understand the issue(s), interests and parties involved
  • Encourage communication and initiate communication where possible
  • Readily apologize and/or admit mistakes
  • Demonstrate willingness to alter plans, projects and philosophies to incorporate new possibilities

Communicating Under Pressure

There are several key principles to apply in order to communicate effectively under pressure. The time to learn them is before a crisis occurs. The time to practice communication skills is in everyday situations. It is usually too late for preparation after a situation escalates. Most agencies face a difficult communication situation at one time or another. This can represent an opportunity to strengthen public image and credibility, or it can add to an agency’s troubles. The key to a successful outcome is early recognition of warning signs and preparation for the opportunity to initiate dialogue. When participating in a public dialogue, be guided by three principles: truth, completeness and position (rationale). Truth is the only effective way to gain trust and reduce suspicion. Trust and credibility grow given honesty in answers, even those answers which are not pleasant news to the audience. Give the complete story to the reporter or group.

The background of an issue can sometimes be helpful to place events in historic perspective. Attempt to fully meet the information needs of the audience by the end of the meeting. Remember that every question asked is another chance to get a beneficial point across. Position answers by coupling straight Yes or No with solid reasons or evidence (the rationale) for the answer. Inform the audience why the action was taken or how and why the policy was established. Connect the dialogue to the answer so the explanation is not drowned out by the next question as well as guaranteeing that it is not easily edited in segments for short tape spots on the news.

RocketTheme Joomla Templates