Author Archive

Flashback to FEMA

June 1, 2011

June 1, 2011

Pam Whiting, Vice President of Communications

Watching the coverage of the devastating Joplin tornado took me back to the several days I spent in Maryland going through FEMA disaster training.  At the time, I was press secretary for then-Mayor Emanuel Cleaver.  Sixty of us traveled to the National Fire Academy – employees and officials from the Police and Fire Departments, Public Works, Red Cross, Salvation Army, KCP&L, MAST, Water and the Neighborhood and Community Services Departments, City Manager’s Office, even Parks & Recreation (they’ve got equipment that can help in a disaster).  Our counterparts from Jackson County were also part of the group.

Our team of trainers was from Oklahoma City and had responded to the Oklahoma City bombing.  They told us they’d gone through the same training we were about to undertake – their instructors had been Kansas Citians who’d responded to the Hyatt disaster.  They said their training in Maryland had helped them better respond to the havoc wreaked by Timothy McVeigh.

They divided us into three groups – the first was comprised of what you might call the ‘frontline’ folks – the dispatchers from Police and Fire, MAST, and other agencies who’d be the first to take the calls.  I was in the second group – the ‘middle management’ types.  The third group was made up of top management from the various agencies represented.   We spent the first day in a classroom, learning and discussing preparedness procedures – and the OKC trainers shared their experiences.

The next day, the simulated training started.  We were assigned to different rooms at the academy.  I remember having a desk, computer, and telephone – and there was a television set with a “newscaster” who’d periodically come on to update what was (supposedly) happening.

As I recall, the first event was a call to dispatchers about a fire underway at a nine-story downtown apartment building.  Then reports that electricity was out on Hospital Hill…followed by an accident at 25th and Holmes with a car that had a container of toxic chemicals in it.  The dispatchers responded to all the calls as if they were real.  As one of the communications team, I started getting a flurry of calls from people clamoring for information or complaining about how they’d been inconvenienced.

Then the TV news guy came on and announced a tornado watch had been issued for the area.  I thought to myself, “Oh, man – I can see THIS coming…”

And, of course, it did.  The tornado hit the ground in Johnson County, traveled up Ward Parkway, and then headed east, roaring through an elementary school full of kids on the east side as it went.

All hell broke loose in the room in which I was working.  The dispatchers were getting calls thick and fast, and calling just as quickly for the first responders.  My phone was ringing constantly from “reporters” who wanted information.

I knew it wasn’t real, but things were moving so quickly and intensely that the adrenaline and sense of urgency kicked in anyway.  FEMA had planned well – they used real locations and the names on the other end of my phone calls were real as well.  Every detail was covered…down to the air conditioning disappearing in the building in which we were all working.

We held news conferences to keep the public informed, set up shelters, dispatched rescuers and heavy equipment, and tried to keep up with the (simulated) tragedies that were unfolding.

By the end of the day, we were all exhausted.

The next day, we focused on the ‘recovery’ stage of a disaster – all the things that need doing once the stuff has stopped hitting the fan.  It was intense.

I came away from those four days in Maryland with a new appreciation for what it takes to respond to and recover from catastrophic disaster, a new appreciation for the multitude of people and organizations involved, and a new understanding of all that’s required in response and recovery.

As I recall, the FEMA course prompted changes and improvement in the city’s emergency response plan when we got back.

My experience was “just pretend” but underscored the importance of training, why firefighters and cops and hospital workers drill, drill, drill, till the responses come almost automatically.  The kind of response that kicked in for the St. John’s hospital workers who had just five minutes warning before the twister hit Joplin.

It also underscored the importance of good planning and collaboration.

So while I’ve been praying for the victims of last week’s tornado, I’ve also been praying for those responsible for dealing with it, from the mayor on down.

I cannot imagine the enormity of their task, nor their heartbreak.

At Home in Union Station

February 21, 2011

February 21, 2011

Pam Whiting, Vice President of Communications

It’s been a little over two months since we moved The Chamber’s offices into historic Union Station.  The boxes and moving bins are long gone, and staff has mostly settled in.  Our new Board Room continues to get a “wow” from those who visit, and we’re still giving the occasional tour to those coming to our new offices for the first time.

Sprint is graciously loaning us artwork from its corporate collection, and we’re thinking about names for our new conference rooms.  The Crossroads Conference Room for the one that’s on the Crossroads side of the office.  The Liberty Memorial Conference Room for the one facing south toward the memorial. 

(The Chamber hosts more than 300 events and meetings a year and those conference rooms are already coming in handy!  Having a name rather than the letters we’ve been using – A,B,C, etc. – will be helpful.  No more, “Which one is that again?”) 

I don’t know about the rest of the staff, but I’m still taking in the experience of being in Union Station.  There’s a solidity that comes, I think, from the thick walls, the enormity of scale, and the history of the building. 

Jarvis Hunt’s design is a wonderful example of Beaux Arts architecture, with marble, terra cotta, the frescoes on the ceiling and those 2500 pound chandeliers. 

We’ve recently posted some information about Union Station and its history under the “About” page on our website if you’re interested in learning more.  The page includes some cool links – my favorite goes to the FBI’s lengthy description of the Union Station Massacre.

Read it here. 

The Dumpster: Day One

November 15, 2010

Pam Whiting, Vice President of Communications

November 15, 2010

It’s just arrived, empty and waiting.  The dumpster that will soon hold about 11 years worth of old stuff.

Moving is a pain, but it’s also an opportunity to cull through old files.  (After all, do I REALLY still need my notes from the gubernatorial debate between Bob Holden and Jim Talent?  I think not.)

And when you’ve finally completed the job, dontcha feel rather self-righteous about it all?  (I confess I’m not there yet…)

The Chamber’s move to Union Station is prompting this frenzy of cleaning out. (Okay, frenzy is overstating it.  Perhaps ‘casual attempt at cleaning out’ is a more accurate description.  I have good intentions but the task is rather daunting.)

Almost every file prompts at least a short trip down Memory Lane.  That only lengthens the process.

We’ve got a deadline in front of us:  the movers come in mid-December.  I’d better get cracking.

And we got some good news last week – the announcement that the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute will be joining us at Union Station.   They’re moving their offices in mid-December, too.

It’s good news for the Station as well, and exactly what Chamber leadership hoped would happen.  As former Chamber Chair Peter deSilva said when he announced our move to Union Station earlier this year, “We hope this will be a catalyst for other organizations looking for new office space.”

We’re excited about moving into ours.

But first I have to deal with 11 years worth of paper and junk.

Union Station Here We Come

November 2, 2010

Pam Whiting, Vice President of Communications

November 1, 2010

Chamber staff got a preview of our new office space at Union Station earlier this week.  What fun!

Things are really taking shape.  The last time I saw the space, the crew from JE Dunn was in the middle of demolition.  Dust and debris everywhere and no real sense of what the space would look like.  (Here’s a link to the video of that day’s tour – you’ll see what I mean.)

There was still a lot of dust, but this time it was from sheetrock.  The walls are up and the space is defined.  We now know where we’ll be when we make the move in mid-December.

We also got a look at our new Board Room – the huge room that previously was the site of the Harvey House Diner.  Now our board members won’t have to sit on top of one another when they meet. (Our current board room is – um – a little small sometimes!)

While we’ve loved our space near the top of Commerce Tower, we’re also excited to “live” in Union Station. Walking around the building during our tour, I was once again impressed by the beauty and craftsmanship on display and thankful for the successful effort to save it. View the photos from Monday’s staff tour.

Union Station is a community treasure (and one of my favorite buildings).  It took eight years to construct, opening in October 1914.  At its peak in World War II, it’s estimated that a million travelers passed through the station.

Here’s more from the Union Station website

Union Station encompasses 850,000 square feet and originally featured 900 rooms… The North Waiting Room (now the Sprint Festival Plaza) could hold 10,000 people and the complex included restaurants, a cigar store, barber shop, railroad offices, the nation’s largest Railway Express Building (used for shipping freight and mail) as well as a powerhouse providing steam and power.

Oh, and it also had its own jail.  (Wonder where that was?  Probably on one of the lower levels the public doesn’t see.)

We’ve also heard there are ghosts. 

Mark your calendar now for January 27 – that’s when you’ll get a chance to tour The Chamber’s new offices and Board Room at our January Business After Hours. 

And by that time, the dust will be gone!

The New

August 23, 2010

Pam Whiting, Vice President of Communications

If you’ve made it to this blog, hopefully you’re also aware that The Chamber’s website has had a facelift. 

Actually, it’s way more than a facelift.  We’ve spiffed up our online Member Directory and renamed it the “Marketplace.”  We’ve added “ChamberTV” and upped our video coverage of Chamber events and programs.  We’ve got a new “Member Area” where you can continue to post your business news releases and calendar announcements – plus a whole lot more.

If you’ve ever launched a new website, you know that pest control is an issue.  We’ve been dealing with some pernicious bugs on the backend of our new site, but are working closely with our developers to get them fixed.  The bugs seem to particularly enjoy messing with our online registration processes.  Let me assure you, we’re taking care of them as quickly as we can – and appreciate your patience.

If you have problems registering for an event, please email Angela Waltz, our Web Director, and she or one of our team members will help solve your problem.  (Plus, you may be alerting us to – sigh – another bug.) 

We’re excited about all the good things we’ve added to – new ways for our members to connect and gain visibility.  And, of course, a website is never finished, so we’ll continue to evolve.

In the meantime, we’d love to know your thoughts on the new site – and what you’d like to see in the future.

Online Communities – Your Ideas Needed!

March 30, 2010

Pam Whiting, Vice President of Communications

We’re still hard at work behind the scenes on the redesign of this Web site.  Lots of tasks to complete before we launch – including planning for our new online communities.

In our last member survey, you told us time was your biggest challenge – and that networking was your top priority in joining The Chamber.  So, armed with that information, we’ve made sure to create a space where Chamber members can connect and dialogue, sharing information and ideas about…whatever!  All from your desk or laptop or phone.

Don’t know if you’ve ever joined an online community before.  I hadn’t – until recently.  I found it by accident when I was searching for information on a medical issue.  Not only did I get the answer I needed, but I also found a kindred group of people dealing with the same condition I was.  Now I log on daily, just to see what community members are talking about, to respond to someone’s question or comment, or to start a discussion of my own. 

Quite frankly, until I became involved, I really didn’t understand the full power of that kind of social media connection. 

It’s pretty amazing. 

You’ll notice a poll on the front page of The Chamber site – asking you a few questions about online communities and how you’d use them.  IF you’d use them. 

That’s for our information as we continue rebuilding  – we need and want your input.  If you’d like to expand beyond ‘yes or no’ answers, feel free to leave your comments here. 

And thanks for visiting The Chamber’s blog!

Coming Attractions: the New

March 15, 2010

Pam Whiting, Vice President of Communications

Here’s a peek at what’s going on behind the scenes at The Chamber – we’re working on a redesign of The Chamber’s primary Web site and plan to launch in the next few months. 

The current site has been a real workhorse for us, allowing us to add and expand when we needed to.  (Our thanks to Web designer Digital Evolution Group, led by the effervescent Neal Sharma.)

But it’s time now for a redesign, and we’re excited about what the new site will offer our members.

  • A more robust online Marketplace will provide increased visibility for your company.
  • Online communities will help you better connect to other members and The Chamber.
  • A new video section will bring Chamber events and information directly to you (because one of our promises to you is to help you get smarter.)

There’s a whole lot more, of course. Right now, we’re testing and adding content, working with our Web designers Raj and Arun at Yoodle.  Meanwhile, David Small and his team at Sun Publications are partnering with us on our online business directory (the new Marketplace). We’ve worked with Lori and David Baerg and their team at Prizm Productions on ‘Chamber TV.’  And The Chamber’s Angela Waltz is coordinating it all while managing her usual tasks. 

This all started with our last member survey.  You told us time was an issue, that connecting with other businesses was your top priority, that sometimes you felt as though The Chamber was too big and impersonal.

You also let us know that you wanted more from The Chamber’s Web site.

So – we’re working on all of that and hope the redesigned site will provide some solutions.  In the meantime, you’ll notice that we’ve added social media (follow us on Facebook and Twitter), this blog, and more video coverage of Chamber events (from the Morning Schmooze and Business After Hours to Senator Christopher Bond’s recent visit with The Chamber’s Federal Affairs Committee).

As always, would love any thoughts you have on the matter.  And we’ll keep you posted as we get ready to launch.  (We have some surprises in store.)

Coming to – or Already In – a Mailbox Near You!

January 7, 2010

Pam Whiting, Vice President of Communications

Networking and visibility – those are the top two reasons people join The Chamber, according to our latest member survey.  So…

You’ll notice some changes in the latest issue of The Chamber’s Greater Kansas City Business. More “good news” from you, for one thing.  We’ve expanded that section because we had plenty of material – Chamber members certainly keep busy winning awards, getting promoted, and expanding their businesses!

Greater Kansas City Business has a new look, too, thanks to Chamber Communications Director Melanie Mattes and designer Roger Ridpath (Ridpath Creative Partners).  We hope you like it.

Also coming to a mailbox near you is The Chamber’s 2010 Membership Directory & Resource Guide. The copies are at Advanced Printing & Mailing getting ready to go, so look for it soon.

BTW – we’re now partnering with Metromedia, a division of Sun Publications (NPGCO), to produce not only the directory, but an enhanced online version as well.  Another ‘visibility’ opportunity for member businesses and organizations.  (The new Web directory will appear with the launch of our new Web site, something else that’s on our horizon.)

We only do business with Chamber members, and encourage you to do the same.  The new print directory has both white and yellow pages listings of all our members, in categories ranging from accountants to youth organizations.  (For some reason, there are no “Z” category listings…)

In the meantime, let us know what interests you most.  Any suggestions for future articles?  About Chamber positions, maybe?  The economy?  What?

RE: Pete Levi

December 7, 2009

Pam Whiting, Vice President of Communications

To:  Whoever wants to read this
Re: Pete Levi
From:  Pam Whiting
Date:  December 2009

What do you say about someone with whom you’ve shared a huge part of your life? 

 Pete Levi is retiring December 31 after serving as Chamber President for 19 years.  I was privileged to work with him for nearly eleven.

I have to add that, if Pete is reading this, he’s groaning inwardly because he hates it when I (try to) make things personal.  “It’s about The Chamber, not me,” he tells me every time I put a personal reference in a piece of copy – a reference like to his golf game or some award he’s gotten.  Anytime I try to slip an “I” in there, he makes me change it to “we.”

So he’ll tell me I shouldn’t be writing this, but what’s he gonna do – fire me?  (I certainly wouldn’t think so, not at this late date!)

 Anyway, after nearly 11 years of working with Pete, here’s my assessment:  politically astute, compassionate, very smart, devout, and deeply devoted to his family.

As for the legacy he leaves, if I was still working as a reporter, I’d focus on these two:  regional collaboration and diversity. 

Pete has worked diligently to bring people together above the state line. The Governors’ Summit on Regional Economic Development, the annual Leadership Exchanges that bring together business and civic leaders from both Kansas and Missouri, a dawning sense in the community that we must collaborate regionally are all a result of his tenure and vision. 

Diversity within The Chamber is his second legacy, and when I use that word, I do so in the multiple contexts of race, gender, size of business, and geography.  All are important aspects of our membership. 

Compare the makeup of The Chamber Board and Chamber membership today with what it was 19 years ago and you see the difference.  The many faces of our community are represented, small businesses and large, from Kansas and Missouri. 

Today the Greater Kansas City Chamber is considered one of the top ten regional chambers in the country – thanks in very large part to Pete Levi.  (He, of course, would make me edit out the last part of that last sentence.)

I’ve told him my length of service at The Chamber is a record for me – I have a tendency to get bored easily – but there’s always been something new to work on.  Sometimes he’s put it on my plate.  Other times he’s given us the go-ahead on a project we really want to do (like the current design of a new Web site).

I’ve learned a lot from him these past 11 years.  Pete has served as mentor and guide, providing advice, counsel, and the occasional (needed) nudge or gentle slap-down.  I’ll miss seeing him on a daily – sometimes hourly – basis.

Many thanks, Pete, if you’re still reading this.  (I TOLD you the blog needed to be personal…this is an example.)

Mickey Mouse Gets A Makeover: A Case Study in Changing Your Image

November 16, 2009

Pam Whiting, Vice President of Communications & Media Relations

So it’s early Saturday morning and I’m trolling around the Internet, when I read The Kansas City Star’s editorial on the Disney Company’s update of the iconic mouse’s image.  The headline read:  “No more Mr. Nice Mouse: Mickey doesn’t need to be edgier.”

 News of Mickey’s makeover has been out there for a while, ever since Disney Interactive Studios announced a new video game – to be released next fall – called “Epic Mickey.” 

It’s Mickey as action hero. 

Disney Interactive Studios

Disney Interactive Studios

The blog reaction – along with The Star’s – has been interesting to read:  lots of folk railing against the changing of their beloved rodent.

Please forgive us if we in Kansas City feel a particular attachment to the king of Disney characters.  After all, he was born here – based on a real mouse that nibbled Uncle Walt’s pencils and with whom the young cartoonist shared his cheese sandwiches.  (Would Mickey have been as famous if he’d remained “Mortimer,” as Walt Disney originally named him?)

AOL’s Daily Finance reports, “Along with the game, Disney is also re-imagining everything about the character. The studio plans to tweak his clothing, personality, and home, presenting a fresh face to the Disney Channel, Disney World, and the Internet.”

It’s already happening.  These characters are now being sold in Japan:

(Remember – Mickey went global a long time ago.)

So what do YOU think?  Are the imaginators at Disney nuts – or is this an incredibly smart move to refresh and revitalize their number one character?

For my part, I recall that Mickey hasn’t always been so nice.  Steamboat Willie showed him in a mischievous light, and he certainly wasn’t behaving himself as he commandeered all those brooms in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

 Still, I’m not sure I’d buy a Mickey wearing a chain with his baseball cap askew.  But then, I’m not in that demographic!

Your thoughts?