Always Room for Improvement
No one is saying that there is not more work to be done, however. Transit agencies strive to become more intelligence-driven and provide the most effective security in the most efficient manner, but there is always opportunity to improve, learning lessons from past experiences, as well as using new technologies and ideas.
“One of the biggest lessons that we all learned from the drill is that no matter the size of your transit system there is always the potential for a terrorist attack to occur and you need to be prepared,” says Hodgson. “No one should ever feel that they are immune from being impacted by this kind of emergency incident.”
“What surprised me the most [in the workshop] was how little communication currently exists between the transit agencies and government agencies such as the TSA and DHS,” says Bonnie Arnold, public information officer, South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.
“One thing that we often discuss on a local level is that we don’t want the first time we meet and work with our local law enforcement agencies and emergency responders to be during an incident,” Hodgson continues. “The APTA drill gave us as transit communicators the opportunity to meet our federal transit and emergency response agency counterparts and familiarize ourselves with their agencies. The drill also gave the group an overview of which agencies would be the decision-makers and provide assistance to transit systems during a national emergency.”
There is a need for those communicating to work on big-picture projects, including updating crisis communications plans and committing to internal and regional drills and training to keep on top of new technological tools. “I came away feeling that there was a tremendous amount of work still to be done,” says Arnold. “I’m especially seeing it now because the final presidential debate will be hosted in our community and there has been a great deal of collaboration between agencies to see that it comes off successfully and safely.”
“I left the [APTA] security workshop feeling comfortable that overall, inter-agency communications is viewed as a critical element to disaster relief; however, communicators in thepublic sector can’t rest on our laurels,” says Salaver. “To bring inter-agency communications to its optimal level we must be diligent in how we view it and how we nurture it. A severe crisis on public transit can quickly evolve into a Hydra, with several of your departments busy flaying each head just to get the system back in operation. Knowing we can count on other agencies to help address a crisis, having those contacts in easy reach via phone, email, text messaging or whatever avenue you use, is a powerful tool.”
Not All Emergencies are the Same
Every emergency situation is different and this can change the process of inter-agency communication.
“Communications to other agencies are handled differently dependent on the scenario,” says Salaver. “BART has developed standard procedures for any situation, whether it’s an incident involving a third-party threat to the system to a major earthquake. BART Police Department and our transportation/operations staff would deal with a terrorist threat one way, versus a different type of emergency, such as a fire on or near the tracks. In general, public transit agencies, given the volume of people we handle daily, have developed standard emergency response procedures that involve inter-agency communications.”
“In the case of a weather emergency such as a winter storm, employees might not be able to report to their offices so it’s important to consider how employees could work remotely to keep operations functioning,” says Hodgson. “As such, MARTA’s annual drills always involve different scenarios so that we can work through the varying response and recovery efforts that would be required.”