“I’m really proud of my staff. My supervisory staff is full time. My operators are mainly part-time students. Staff remained with their buses and helped evacuate people. My supervisors did traffic control, helped people towards the buses, redirected students away and took people out of there.”
Blacksburg was involved in an emergency situation in August 2006 when William Morva escaped custody. “We shut down our transit system as a precaution to ensure that Morva did not try to escape the area by using the bus,” Says Martin. “We then staged our buses as part of the emergency preparedeness plan.
“We had to shut down during that timeframe and then became whatever the police needed,” she says. She explains that they did the same thing for this emergency situation.
“We didn’t know if there was a second shooter and what we didn’t want, what we all learned from the first experience, if there is somebody else, we don’t want the bus to be an escape and we don’t want to keep bringing people to campus.
“We got everybody out as we moved off campus, we regrouped and prepared for evacuations. We then provided services per police request,” she says.
“We provided a lot of tactical support. We provided the transportation that was needed, we provided a bus if they needed for triage; we provided a bus for moving police officers around; we just provided whatever service was needed. The close working relationship that is developed continually throughout the year with Virginia Tech, the town police and EMS was critical during this emergency. It was a big part of our success.”
During our talk, Martin couldn’t stress enough the efforts of her operations manager, supervisory and office staff. “Our staff was absolutely amazing.”
For its actions, the Virginia Transit Association awarded Blacksburg Transit with an award for Emergency Response in a Crisis.
Martin made an interesting point about the day. “You know, nothing was exactly as we trained. We had to adapt continually as the situation unfolded, but we were very successful.” She says, “For instance, my contacts within the universtiy, every single one of them was out of town that day.
“They were out at conferences and out of town and it still worked,” she explains. “We called each other, we found each other, they found out what they needed, we shut down the system, we pooled our resources; we had staff located at tactical centers; we were able to know what they needed from us, we were able to keep our operators at work so we could send out the buses needed.”
She mentions that they are in the middle of writing a transit emergency preparedness report to share.
“For us, the couple things that I know we’re definitely going to tell people is train, train, train. Staff fell back on regular training used for bad weather, large venue events and everday occurances with complete success. It is important for transit systems to invest in a solid training program.”
The second thing she stresses as important are community relationships. “The relationship that we build everyday with our localities and businesses are critical. In this area Blacksburg Transit has a reputation of being a team player in the region.”