Key Takeaways on Mass Transit Safety, Risk Management

Posted on July 19, 2016 by Steve Mentzer - Also by this author

Courtesy CDTA
Courtesy CDTA

Allow me to use this month to introduce a hidden gem within the APTA line up of annual meetings and conferences, otherwise known as the APTA Risk Management Seminar (RMS).

The RMS occurred last month in Albany, N.Y. and it was a truly remarkable learning experience for those in attendance. The RMS event brings together transit risk management professionals from all across the country to focus on key topics related to safety, risk management, planning and prevention.

If you ask anyone to pick their favorite presentation from this year’s RMS, you would likely get 10 to 15 different answers. I’m not going to summarize every presentation, but here are a couple of my personal favorites. These subjects made my list because they are not commonly addressed during transit events.

  • Active Shooter Awareness, Preventions and Response

During this fast-paced and highly-informative presentation, Bill Parsons offered insight into what occurs within the brain of the shooter, and conversely, within the brains of innocent people as they respond to sudden violence and how this gives the shooter such a remarkable and obvious advantage. Bill helped us understand how the shooter’s preparation allows them to suppress their emotions and maintain their full-cognitive function, helping them operate in a highly-efficient manner throughout the assault.

Bill shared his personal experiences, as well as riveting stories of law enforcement officers, emergency responders, and common everyday people that were forced to deal with unexpected violence in the familiar surroundings of their work environments and how they managed to survive.

Obviously, it’s not appropriate to give away other people’s hard-earned expertise, but I can tell you that Bill is extremely knowledgeable and can provide useful strategies, as well as a detailed road map that will help any organization improve their preparation and ability to respond to an active shooter situation. After hearing Bill speak, you will be compelled to improve your situational awareness, define and practice your personal response strategy, and to encourage your organization to develop a comprehensive collection of response plans needed to address the unique complexity of your agency’s work environment.

Two key takeaways for me personally are: 1) Trust your intuition. Our gut (subconscious mind) will often ‘tell us’ when something isn’t right. 2) If something isn’t right, report it. Share your concerns with colleagues and with the appropriate authorities outside of your organization. Ultimately, it’s better to apologize and accept responsibility for being wrong than to regret not sharing information that would have prevented the loss of innocent lives.

Carm Basile and CDTA hosted the event.
Carm Basile and CDTA hosted the event.
  • The Disaster of Mass Evacuation

Brock Long from Hagerty Consulting blew my mind (no pun intended) with his presentation warning that an ill-conceived evacuation plan (in response to a natural disaster) can lead to a secondary disaster of our own making.

Brock used case studies of mass evacuation efforts prompted by hurricanes and floods to capture key lessons of what worked and to suggest how we can improve our planning for the future. The concepts of zone-based and phased evacuations were discussed to help us better manage the movement of the ever-growing mass of people that may require shelter from Mother Nature.

The zone-based concept seeks suitable locations that can support evacuees with an emphasis on reducing the distance that must be traveled in order for folks to receive adequate shelter and support.

Phased evacuations optimize our existing infrastructure, which has not kept pace with the population growth experienced in many parts of our country. In the absence of a phased approach, everyone trying to move at the same time causes our roadways and transportation systems to be overloaded causing gridlock and chaos to ensue. An organized approach that is conducted in phases hastens the evacuation process making it much more likely that the evacuation can be completed in a safe and timely manner.

Brock covered a long list of considerations that will help any transit organization prepare a strategy for executing a mass evacuation. HINT: There are many not-so obvious considerations that must be made.

I’d like to squeeze in one last presentation: “The Comprehensive Safety System Review” conducted by King County Metro (Metro) in Seattle was truly outstanding. This effort seeks to align Metro practices with the County’s Enterprise Risk Management Approach and led to a number of interesting discoveries, challenges and creative solutions.

Marc Anderson, risk manager from Metro; Sean Catanese, ERM manager, King County; and Robert Ziegler of Terracon Consultants asked questions, conducted surveys, evaluated processes and procedures, and ignored any pre-conceived notions to conduct a thorough evaluation of Metro’s safety systems and culture. Their open and honest evaluation revealed what actions needed to be taken and allowed the team to build an implementation plan to ensure the required work will be done.

This self-prompted review illustrates Metro’s willingness to stretch itself beyond mere compliance, instead reaching for the safest version of itself that is possible for them to become. It was interesting to learn how one organization challenged itself to improve and the steps being taken to make it happen.

There were many other highlights including how to create partnerships in your community, how to develop and reinforce safe driving habits, the role of technology in risk management, how to transfer risk and loss, cyber risks and the growing need for cyber security, the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, video-based risk management products, and the list goes on.

Joan Lynch, risk manager for Houston Metro, put together a great program and the folks at capital District Transportation Authority were amazing hosts. Next year’s RMS will be held in San Diego and promises to be another action-packed event. Expect a lot of discussion to address the emerging issues associated with Autonomous Vehicles and related technologies.

Before closing, the folks at Aon Risk Solutions are collaborating with APTA’s Risk Management Committee to compile a comprehensive benchmarking analysis report identifying the top risks for public transit. Data is being collected through a survey that has been sent directly to APTA Members seeking their input. The deadline for participation has been extended to July 22nd. Respondents will receive a free copy of the report, due out sometime in the Nov/Dec timeframe.

I hope you will consider attending next year as you will definitely learn something that will provide immediate benefits to your organization. Better yet, you can attend and make a presentation to share your knowledge and the good work being done at your agency. That’s a win-win.

Steve Mentzer is Enterprise Sales Director, Public Transit and Government Fleets, for Lytx.

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