Sacramento Honors Capt. Sullenberger
Less than one month after launching the Sacramento Service Plan, Mayor Kevin Johnson was joined by pilot Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger in kicking off “Sacramento Ready”, the plan’s public safety campaign aimed at engaging residents in emergency and disaster preparedness.
“We saw what happened in New Orleans with (Hurricane) Katrina,” said Mayor Johnson to a capacity filled City Council Chamber.
“In terms of a flood, Sacramento is the second most dangerous or at-risk community behind New Orleans.”
The event belonged to Captain Sullenberger, the Air Force veteran pilot best known for landing US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River off Manhattan nearly two years ago on January 15, 2009.
All 155 people on board survived, earning Sullenberger the nickname “Hero on the Hudson”.
“I thought a lot in the last year and a half about what the word hero means,” said Sullenberger. “I came to the conclusion that in our society we overuse that word.”
“When used appropriately it’s a word that describes traits and qualities that go to the very heart of what makes us human. Traits and qualities the vast majority of us have the quality of thinking of as abstractions. For certain people, these are values that have real meaning in the real life with real consequences.”
Sullenberger took time to reflect on the events of January 15, 2009, recognizing first officer Jeffrey Skiles and flight attendants Donna Dent, Doreen Welsh and Sheila Dail.
Sullenberger also described his thought process as events unraveled that day.
“Flight 1549 was completely routine and unremarkable for the first 100 seconds, and then it wasn’t,” said Sullenberger. “Within seconds I knew it would be the challenge of a lifetime.”
“My first two conscious thoughts, I remember clearly, were rooted in disbelief. This can’t be happening. This doesn’t happen to me. Then I had the sudden realization that unlike every other flight I had at that point in 42 years, this one would probably not end on a runway with the aircraft undamaged. And I was ok with that, as long as I could solve the problem.”
“I was able to force calm on myself.”
Sullenberger described how he was able to synthesize his experience and training in order to solve the problem at hand, and how he chose only to do the most important things to land the plane. In the end, he credited his life’s preparation of learning and understanding.
“We not only need to know our jobs, we need to know the jobs of people who are depending on us,” said Sullenberger. “The next person in the process. The next unit over. What are their challenges? What are their responsibilities? What do they expect me to do?”
“We have to work together cooperatively, and that requires leadership and that requires an organizational culture in which we all have a shared sense of responsibility for the outcome. And in Sacramento, I think that’s a sense of civic unity. A willingness to serve a cause rather than ourselves, and share our sacrifices”
Sacramento Ready provides a partnership between the Office of the Mayor and the American Red Cross Capital Region Chapter, formerly known as Sac-Sierra Red Cross.
"Of the many people in this country who have experienced a significant crisis in their home or neighborhood, less than half of the people surveyed by the American Red Cross have taken steps to be prepared for emergencies,” said Dawn Lindblom, CEO of American Red Cross Capital Chapter.
“At the American Red Cross, being prepared to respond to disasters is a top priority. We make every effort to ensure that we will have the necessary supplies, trained volunteers, and resources to meet the needs of those affected by disasters.”
Other Sacramento Ready partners include Sacramento Emergency Services, Sacramento CERT, Medical Reserve Corps, The Salvation Army, California Volunteers, Hands on Sacramento, and the City of Sacramento.
Sullenberger – later presented with a quilt from the American Red Cross Capital Region Chapter, a framed illustration by the Sacramento Bee’s Rex Babin, and a Key to the City – urged Sacramentans to follow his lead of preparation.
“None of us knows what tomorrow may bring,” said Sullenberger. “Each of us has a responsibility to be ready, to prepare ourselves well.”
Photos | Kati Garner