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Workshop broadens transit emergency response awareness

Posted on April 18, 2012 by Nicole Schlosser, Senior Editor - Also by this author

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Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority participated in a drill exercise that walked attendees through a terrorist attack scenario at APTA’s Marketing and Communications Workshop Crisis Communications session. The agency routinely conducts its own emergency exercises. 
Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority participated in a drill exercise that walked attendees through a terrorist attack scenario at APTA’s Marketing and Communications Workshop Crisis Communications session. The agency routinely conducts its own emergency exercises. 
Created specifically for communicators, the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) Marketing and Communications Workshop Crisis Communications session, held in Miami in February, walked attendees through a scenario consisting of
three incidents: two explosions in a Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) bus station, one explosion in a Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) station and white powder found on a South Florida Regional Transportation Authority bus.

Panelists included officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and communications staff members from each transit agency.

It was the first time that a security communications drill about attacks on public transportation was offered, Virginia Miller, senior manager, media relations, APTA, says.

“Everyone in the room was in the communications department for transit systems,” she explains. “While individual transit systems have gone through different exercises with local police, firemen and their Mayor’s offices, they had never before sat in a room with their colleagues and just focused on public transportation.”

The session opened with Miller discussing ISACs, national and critical infrastructures to build and maintain information sharing and analysis centers. The public transportation sector has its own ISAC, which APTA manages. It collects and analyzes threat information from government and open sources and is available on a 24/7 basis.

“All APTA members have access to the ISAC,” Miller says. “If something was to ever happen, ISAC would have information out to public transit systems stating what has happened and what the facts are at that moment.”

The three federal panelists spoke about their respective agencies’ roles, what would be going on in the government if something were to happen on U.S. transit systems, and about transit agencies reaching out to federal and local stakeholders to share information. Panelist Lisa Farbstein, public affairs specialist and spokesperson, office of strategic communications & public affairs, TSA, says each federal panelist also explained how they work together and with transit agencies in the event of an incident.

Panelists also covered how communicators need to be in that loop and ask questions, find out about what his or her agency is doing, and communicate that to passengers. “You put out word, ‘Something happened in city X and we are monitoring that situation and taking the following proactive steps.’ You want your public to know that,” Farbstein says.

Additionally, transit agencies should all share the same message and ensure they are communicating shared messages among each other.

Drill exercise
The drill scenario presented a day of terrorist attacks on the East Coast and the West Coast and reviewed procedures both at public transit systems and in the government. First there was an explosion in the morning during rush hour at the Five Points MARTA bus station and another explosion at the same station 14 minutes later.

Also in the exercise, Miller explains, after the two bombings at MARTA, the DHS at different points in the day held a National Incident Communications Conference Line (NICCL) call for federal and transit agencies. NICCL is used to coordinate public information efforts with federal partners during a threat or an incident, Chad Wood, risk communications specialist, office of public affairs, DHS, says.

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