June 2009

Transit Taps Resources to Enhance Emergency Response Role

by Claire Atkinson, Senior Editor

Because of the sheer volume of people riding transit each day, transportation systems are vulnerable in emergency situations. And according to the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) Security and Emergency Preparedness Planning Guide, transit systems are inherently "open" environments, and therefore, difficult to protect. Whether it's a hurricane, terrorist attack or vehicle collision that occurs, transit systems need to have extensive emergency response plans in place to prevent loss of life.

"We're responsible for a lot of people every day, and I wanted to make sure that everybody, including our employees, is safe," says Jeanne Krieg, CEO Tri Delta Transit in Antioch, Calif.

Perhaps the most pressing threat since 2001 is that of terrorism. As federal agencies have continued to emphasize, transit systems are potential targets for terrorist attacks. The most deadly attacks on transit systems to occur in recent years were the March 11, 2004, bombing of multiple trains in Madrid that left 191 people dead and 1,500 injured, and the July 7, 2005 attacks on trains and buses in London, which killed 35 and injured 1,000.

With this level of danger as a possibility, transit agencies have used guidelines and directives from the federal government as well as resources from state and local agencies to compile emergency response plans and execute disaster drills.

Drafting the plan

Krieg began her career at Tri Delta Transit in 1991. When she became general manager four years later, she felt it was important to implement a comprehensive emergency response plan. Director of Administrative Services Ann Hutcheson was assigned to be the point person for the project and worked with Krieg to pull together resources and information.

Hutcheson referred to FTA and the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) for guidelines in developing the plan, as well as the Oregon Department of Transportation and other transit agencies in the area. Tri Delta Transit also consulted with agencies within Antioch, attending quarterly meetings held at the emergency operations center run by the police department. "That's how I met people and gathered information," she says. "The Red Cross people were there, the county OES (Office of Emergency Services) people were there."

In addition, the city's Office of Emergency Services, in partnership with a contractor hired by the FTA Office of Security, provided a threat assessment at no charge that identified vulnerabilities to the transit system. Those vulnerabilities were then addressed in the development of the emergency response plan.

The end result was the compilation of Tri Delta Transit's Security and Emergency Preparedness Program (SEPP). FTA regulations require all rail transit systems to have such plans in place, and the agency provides resources through its Safety and Security Webpage at http://transit-safety.volpe.dot.gov/default.asp.

Hutcheson says the biggest challenge in putting the plan together was taking on such a comprehensive project while trying to take care of her regular job duties at the same time. "From a small operator's perspective, it is kind of a lot of work because the bigger guys have one staff person that does just this. And of course, they have all these other things that we just don't have, like tunnels. So it does take some time - you can't just cookie-cutter it. You have to go through the information and find what would apply to you," she explains.

The Tri Delta Transit plan outlines the responsibilities of various leaders and officers within the agency, as well as information for all personnel. It also addresses bomb threat response, biological and chemical agents, use of a transit vehicle as a weapon, network failure and cyber attacks, weapons of mass destruction, violent incidents and hostage situations, how to identify suspicious activity, loss of power, and emergency closing and evacuations.

On the other end of the spectrum, King County Metro Transit, headquartered in Seattle, is one of the largest transit systems in the country, with a dedicated emergency program staff position. Homeland Security Program Manager Mike DeCapua has an extensive background in law enforcement, including service as a chief of police, SWAT team commander and member of the Department of Homeland Security's Target Capability List Working Group.

DeCapua's goal in creating King County Metro's emergency plan was to improve upon federal requirements and create an all-hazards response plan. "The plan deals at the tactical level and demonstrates how our incident command system within Metro meshes with public safety incident command, and also describes what each of our responding sections would do at 15 different types of emergencies," he says. In 2008, the Transportation Security Administration recognized the agency's plan and corresponding training and exercise program as an industry best practice.

DeCapua is also the founding associate of Public Safety Consultants Northwest LLC, and oversees the company's Homeland Security training and consulting programs.


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