Disasters and emergencies can happen anywhere, at any time. Over the past two years alone, more than 130 presidential disaster declarations have been issued covering 45 states and territories. No public or private entity is immune to disasters, and no single segment of society can meet the complex needs of a major emergency or disaster on its own. When disaster strikes, the community is clearly divided into only two entities: those who need help and those who can provide help.
In early 2007 the National Transit Institute (NTI), with funding provided by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), began offering a two-day emergency preparedness workshop called “Connecting Communities.” Since that time, the workshop has been delivered in more than 30 cities nationwide, including Washington, D.C., Boston, Providence, Newark, Richmond, Atlanta, Raleigh, Orlando, Tampa, Columbus, Cleveland, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.
The workshop features a unique blend of participants and facilitators. The participants include representatives of local law enforcement, fire service, local emergency management, emergency medical services and public and private transit agencies. In many instances, private entities such as Walt Disney World participate as well. The facilitators possess professional backgrounds in law enforcement, fire service and public transportation. Class sizes usually range from 30 to 40 participants.
The primary goal of the workshop is to illustrate how professionals in the emergency services of police, fire, emergency management and public transportation can partner, collaborate and share resources and operational plans to minimize the loss of life and damage to property and ultimately to stabilize the incident.
The workshop focuses on teaching emergency services and public transit each other’s respective capabilities, expertise and contributions during emergency incidents. Also key are the types of resources and services each agency can bring to the table, resulting in an effective multi-discipline response. Connecting the communities of emergency services and public transit is the key concept of the workshop; each agency contributes in its unique way. Emergency situations requiring a multi-agency response have happened before and will happen again. We must recognize the reality that such events happen and how a coordinated multi-agency response can mean the difference between success and failure.
Participants in the workshop are introduced to the fundamental principles of emergency management. Emergency management is a comprehensive, integrated program of preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation for emergencies and disasters of any kind. Emergency management establishes order and supplies resources to incidents exceeding the capability of single jurisdictions. No matter the scale of the incident, the local incident commander or unified command is in charge of the emergency impacting its area. Local responding agencies may request additional resources through the next layer of government. This could involve, for example, a county office of emergency management, should the need exceed the supply of local resources. Similarly, the county may request assistance from the state office of emergency management, and it in turn can request the assistance of the federal government.
Preparedness: In the preparedness phase of emergency management rings the old saying, “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.” Preparation employs comprehensive planning to identify high-risk emergency situations in order to institute a response system and team to deal with the incident. During this phase a strong regional partnership must be established. Evaluation of available resources needs to take place in order to disseminate these resources effectively. The preparedness phase is where training, readiness exercises and drills are coordinated to educate responders so that they can practice working together. One of the key elements in preparedness for public transit agencies is designing evacuation plans. Public transit can play a vital role in emergency evacuation.