Behind The Scenes In Groton
The New London Day has an article about the decision to activate the USS San Juan's phone tree when the boat was "out of contact" last week. Excerpts:
The squadron command had activated the phone tree for families of the crew. Master Chief Petty Officer Tommy Vatter, command master chief for Squadron 12, had assembled the staff earlier that morning to review the list of all those on board left by the San Juan before it departed.The one problem I've seen with phone tree notifications is the tendency for the message to sometimes get "elaborated on" as it moves down the tree. One time when the phone tree was activated when I was a JO on USS Topeka when we were pulling back into base for a quick repair right after leaving on deployment in 1992, the message morphed from "the boat's pulling back in for a couple of hours, don't bother coming down to the base" to "meet right away at the McDonalds on base for a briefing from the Commodore".
“We needed to make sure we had a complete list before we started calling,” Vatter said. “There was a lot of emotion in what we were doing.” Volunteer callers and family members were told a specific message that they wrote down. Then they called their assigned contact families on the list.
“Typically our phone trees are, 'Hey, guess what? The boat is pulling in. Yay!' ” Burianek said.
The Navy wanted to ensure that the families received accurate information from official sources first, rather than rumors or news reports, McBrearty said. “We have to be very careful about what the families are told,” he said. “Part of our job, especially here at the homeport of the submarine, is to make sure the families get the facts. That's our commitment to our families in good news and in bad news.”
But before the first message made it all the way through the phone tree, the crew checked in, around 5:45 a.m. “A lot of the wives were very happy they did not receive that first phone call — very happy,” Burianek said. The Navy called off search-and-rescue efforts after hearing from the crew. The crew confirmed that it did not fire a flare and did not know the San Juan was thought to be in distress.
“At that point, we took a deep breath and put out another phone-tree message,” said Capt. Marc Denno, chief of staff for Squadron 12.