Seaports Magazine - Summer 2014 - (Page 20)
LEADS TO PORTS
Port of Oakland Spokesperson Marilyn Sandifur talks about the challenges
of working in communications, lessons learned from the Occupy Oakland
protests and her passion outside the port.
By Sarah Sain
arilyn Sandifur tells those
seeking advice from her to
always keep their eyes open
to a new path.
The Port of Oakland's spokesperson
picked up that life lesson from her own
Sandifur started out her career in radio
and television. Before joining the port in
2000, she worked in a number of roles (news
anchor, reporter, executive producer, associate director of operations) at stations and
broadcasting service companies in the San
Francisco Bay area, including KCBS, the
Northern California radio affiliate of CBS.
Over time, she observed that the news
business was becoming more entertainment
focused, so she began working with a small
public relations firm in addition to her fulltime news position. During that period, a
port employee informally approached her
to ask advice on what the port could do to
get more positive news coverage.
"This port staffer felt strongly that the
organization had a lot of good stories to tell,
but somehow wasn't getting the kind of positive publicity it deserved for all of the great
projects and work it was doing."
Sandifur outlined some steps that the
port could take to garner positive media
interest. Shortly thereafter she was hired
as a consultant, which led to her becoming
a long-time Port of Oakland employee with
the port's communications department.
Preparing for the
When Sandifur joined the port 14 years
ago, she said it took a while to truly grasp
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the vastness of the port holdings and the
variety of operations that take place there
(the Port of Oakland has three lines of business: maritime, aviation and commercial
"I found maritime to be particularly
fascinating because of its impact on the
lives of people around the world," she says.
"Maritime connects us all in many different and positive ways. Our quality of life
is better because of the shipping industry,
which moves all kinds of goods - food,
medicine and equipment - across the globe
and creates access for many people to what
might not have been otherwise available in
their own neighborhoods."
As spokesperson for the port, Sandifur
works on both internal and outside projects
and campaigns. She says the real challenge
of working in communications is that you
never really know what your day will bring.
"You might come into the office and
plan to develop an ad campaign that day,
write a newsletter or focus on a community
relations project, but you always have to be
ready to drop what you're doing to make
room for the unexpected," she says. "You
might get a call from the media with questions on a situation you're hearing about for
the first time, there could be an emerging
legal or labor issue, or you might get a visit
from a high-level foreign dignitary who
happens to be eating lunch nearby and
suddenly wants a tour of the port."
One such challenging situation was the
Occupy Oakland protests that took place
at the port in the fall of 2011, when a few
thousand people demonstrated in the port's
maritime area. This effectively shut down
operations at the Oakland seaport for a
period of less than 24 hours.
Sandifur said the port took a unique
approach in its response to the protests.
"We set up an EOC (Emergency
Operations Center) that one would normally establish when responding to a
natural disaster, such as an earthquake or
a flood. We learned that this was a very
effective way to handle the event because
you had all the key team members in the
room, from operations to communication. Everyone could look at the incident
Sandifur says the No. 1 goal of the port
in the midst of the protest was to keep
everyone - demonstrators, employees and
people who worked within the port - safe.
By having the EOC in place, the port was
able to communicate to all of its stakeholders and coordinate effectively.
"The results: We had no injuries, there
was no major damage to facilities and, at
the same time, we were able to uphold the
right of free speech."
Throughout the incident, the port used
its website, social media feeds, traditional
press releases and editorial placements to
keep the public informed and get out its
"We quickly began to see in the public
dialogue that people were questioning the
value of choosing the port as a location for
the demonstrations. The public began to
recognize that the people who worked at
the port - the truckers, the dock workers,
the regular employees who come to work
every day - those were the people who
were heavily impacted by the shutdown."
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Seaports Magazine - Summer 2014
From the President’s Desk
In Case of Emergency
Partners in Fighting Crime
Her Path Leads to Ports
U.S. Needs New Transportation Law that Improves Quality of Life, Economy
Crisis at the Port: Planning Ahead Makes the Difference
Superstorms and Rising Sea Level Present a New Challenge for Ports
Aapa Port Employee Relief Fund a Helping Hand for Those in Need
Toronto Emergency Departments Hold Joint Ice and Cold Water Training Exercises
New Sonar Solution to Protect Aruba Ports Authority
Preparedness, Resiliency and Responsiveness in Mexico
Cat Islands Restoration Strengthens the Resiliency of Port of Green Bay, Local Environment
Index of Advertisers
Seaports Magazine - Summer 2014