How to plan a hero's welcome in 72 hours | January 30, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Cover Story - January 30, 2009

How to plan a hero's welcome in 72 hours

When the decision was made to hold a Welcome Home celebration for local hero "Sully" Sullenberger, town officials had only 72 hours to pull together an event that was going to attract worldwide media attention as well as thousands of well-wishers and fans.

So how'd they do it?

"It was nothing short of the best team effort this community could ever see," said Danville Emergency Services Director Greg Gilbert. Gilbert donned an additional hat and joined with Town Economic Development Director Jill Bergman in becoming event planners for the celebration.

Gilbert and Bergman met with Town Manager Joe Calabrigo, Town Clerk Marie Sunseri and others to plan out the day.

"We had a brainstorming session and we put all the things we'd like to see out on the table. Then we culled it down to what we could do and we got to work," said Gilbert.

Plans revolved around a number of aspects, such as placing the stage for maximum visibility, which roads to close, handling the 200 expected media representatives while protecting the Sullenberger family's privacy, police presence, parking, dignitaries and bands.

The various officials split up the duties; Gilbert handled press relations; Bergman, planning; Calabrigo, logistics; and others worked to put the plan together.

Bergman said the event could not have been done as quickly or as well if the town staff did not have an excellent working relationship.

"It's a family organization. We know what each of us can do and we trust each other to get it done," she said.

She added that the help and cooperation of the Danville Area Chamber of Commerce and a number of area businesses definitely went a long way to getting the Town Green ready for the influx of media and residents.

About 45 town employees assisted with the Saturday celebration, many of whom volunteered their time. In addition, Gilbert said many of the decorations and items displayed in the Town Green were either cash or "in kind" donations provided by area groups and businesses.

Town staff put in some really long days last week, but when they saw the faces of the Sullenberger family and the spectacle of it all they knew it had all been worthwhile.

"It turned out pretty darned perfect," Bergman said. "When it was all said and done, we were all just thankful that it turned out so well."

-Geoff Gillette