Since the days of 9/11, changes in how we live our everyday lives have been occurring with greater regularity. Safety and security are at the forefront of many minds, whether it is avoiding another terrorist attack or taking care of hurricane victims. As a nation we have tried to become more proactive and less reactive, sometimes for our benefit and sometimes to our detriment.
However, it is not always possible to be proactive. Sometimes having the correct response is essential in minimizing the impact of an emergency or natural disaster. In regards to the transit industry, the importance of working together cannot be understated. Agencies must be able to work with local law enforcement, federal and state authorities to deal with emergencies and security issues.
Earlier in 2012, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) hosted a transit security communications drill at its Marketing & Communications Workshop. The drill — the first of its kind — covered multiple emergency scenarios that could possibly be encountered, with transit agency professionals, as well as representatives from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) taking part.
“The transit tabletop exercise that was conducted at the APTA Communications conference was an effort to get transit communications professionals focused on the vital roles they would play in the event of a terrorist incident,” says Lisa Farbstein, Office of Public Affairs, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), “and to get them thinking about some of the issues and challenges that they will face in informing their passengers and the general public if an incident does occur. I think it was valuable because it got the transit officials thinking about what they should do to prepare for an attack and what their role will be should something arise. It also was to raise their awareness of how a terrorist incident on another mass transit system may ultimately affect their own agency and how they will need to communicate to their passengers.”
“While I have years of media relations experience and represent two public transportation entities, I had never participated in a drill that included communicators from public transport systems, as well as the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Transit Administration,” says Luna Salaver, public information officer, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and Capital Corridors Joint Powers Authority. “ It was an opportunity for transit communicators to hear what their colleagues do during a disaster, learn what practices are in place and share effective communications tools as well.”
“The MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) Police Department every year hosts a tabletop drill and full-scale exercise for all agency departments throughout MARTA to practice and prepare our emergency plans,” says Cara Hodgson, manager of communications, MARTA. “During these extremely effective and beneficial drills, we also work with our local law enforcement agencies and emergency responders. The APTA transit security communications drill was an excellent opportunity to take our local preparation efforts to a national level and learn more about coordinating with federal agencies in the case of an emergency incident that impacted transit systems across the country.”
The drill itself was a minute-by-minute exercise of what actions are taken, both at a federal and regional level, when a threat to transit occurs in different parts of the nation on the same day. The evolving nature of the terrorist threat requires a regular evaluation on how efficient and effective operations can be, to build on successes and to continuously improve.
“I came away with a stronger knowledge of the communications steps, both internally and externally, that our federal partners take to keep transportation, security and elected officials, and the public informed,” says Salaver. “This lesson underscored the vital need for inter-agency communications and relationships during a crisis.”