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by Jesse L. Szymanski, staff writer

Communication students at HPU got an in depth look at disaster preparedness from a national expert after the Oct. 17 earthquakes that rattled the islands.

Former New Yorker Jasmin Rodriguez presented her experiences as the public relations representative for Saint Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center of New York City during the 9/11 attacks.

Rodriguez moved to Hawai‘i shortly after 9/11 and is now the director of marketing and communications for Castle Medical Center in Kailua.

Saint Vincent’s, located on the lower West side of Manhattan, was the first one to admit patients when the attacks began on the Twin Towers, and it operated as the main command center for all hospitals. Within the first hour of the 9/11 attacks, Saint Vincent’s received 400 patients; she displayed photographs of bleeding victims covered in dust. Also within the first hour, six auxiliary emergency rooms were opened. It was Rodriguez’s job to communicate with all the other hospitals, order extra supplies, set up triage teams, and deal with the media.

On 9/11 her responsibilities were not only to run Saint Vincent’s, but also to hold regular briefings every hour with nearly 600 media representatives who were stationed outside of Saint Vincent’s by noon.

When the North Tower collapsed, so did New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani’s command center. Saint Vincent’s became his new command center.

“ I was running two command centers from the same building,” Rodriguez said. Sending runners back and forth from the hospital to the media outlets and the mayor and organizing transportation of patients were only some of the many tasks she carried out that day. Many were moved to Saint Vincent’s Staten Island Hospital and other centers.

Rodriguez said nearly 2,000 people in the immediate area voluntarily formed lines to set up a blood drive. The way people came together in the time of crisis amazed her, she said.

Rodriguez advised that any disaster plan should include setting up a family center. Nearly 6,500 people visited Saint Vincent’s in the first days searching for family and friends. Calls were made to locate the whereabouts of loved ones.

“On 9/11 we broke all privacy regulations,” Rodriguez said.

Information on patients’ conditions or verification of location was open to anyone who asked, because so many people desperately needed information.

Rodriguez had some things to say about the importance of disaster planning and what the City of Honolulu can and should do during a major disaster. She said that coordination between different civil service organizations, such as the Police and Fire departments, is paramount.


Q & A with Jasmin Rodriguez:

1. Did Hawai‘i do all it could do in the aftermath of the earthquake, and is it prepared and ready to handle even larger disasters?
In my opinion, agencies in Hawai‘i have started to work together in identifying the critical issues when dealing with a disaster. I was impressed with HECO’s plan of action in dealing with the loss of electricity. One of the lessons learned during the earthquake was the inability to get information out through the media for the communities. There has to be a plan in place for media outlets to get messages across to people.

2. How has your experience on 9/11 changed you as a person working in public relations and in medical centers?
The events of September 11 impacted people in many ways. For me personally, it has increased my awareness as to what is important in life — my Christian beliefs, the importance of family, the importance of friends, and ensuring that they all know how much I love and care for them. On a more mundane level, it forced me to have a plan of action for me and my family as to where to go and where to meet.

3. What advice would you give a student who is interested in your type of work?
Students interested in PR need to decide what type of PR they are interested in and in what industry. Although there are many common factors that are cross-tactics and can apply to any industry, health care PR is very different from any other industry. It is an industry that requires constant revamping of strategies, research of community needs, and alignment to the hospital’s vision, tactics, and changes in trends. One needs to have a passion for health care and a desire to make a difference in and for the communities at large.




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