Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 24, 2009

CSM applauds DC emergency response

Filed under: Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on June 24, 2009

Dave Cook with the Christian Science Monitor sends kudos to DC emergency response agencies. The Mayor? Well, not so much. It is a short piece, most of it is reproduced below.

Emergency response to Metrorail crash shows post-9/11 gains
Communications and coordination in D.C. area were smooth, akin to rescue after Hudson plane crash.

By Dave Cook | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
from the June 24, 2009 edition

Washington – First responders’ effective handling of Monday’s rail accident in Washington, coupled with the smooth rescue after a Hudson River plane crash in January, may indicate that the post-9/11 demand for better, faster emergency response is being met – at least in some of the nation’s big cities.

“The regional response that is required during extraordinary incidents (Hudson and Metro being two good recent examples) has, in my opinion, significantly improved since 9/11,” Daniel Kaniewski, deputy director of George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute, wrote Wednesday in an e-mail interview. He served in the Bush White House as special assistant to the president for homeland security and senior director for response policy.

Triggering an effective response

On Monday afternoon, one Metrorail train slammed into a second train stopped outside the Fort Totten Station in Northeast Washington. The impact pushed part of the moving train onto the top of the stationary train. Two-thirds of the moving train’s lead car was crushed, killing nine and injuring more than 70 people.

The Metrorail accident, which disrupted the daily commute for thousands in the Washington area, tested how the nation’s capital would cope with a major incident. What happened was “an effective regional response,” Mr. Kaniewski said in an online commentary.

In the wake of the accident, emergency vehicles converged on the scene. “As I monitored the radio traffic of the local agencies involved, I expected to hear chaos; but instead I heard the calm and ordered dispatch of emergency units and informative reports from arriving personnel,” Kaniewski wrote.

Response teams working in unity

“When the DC resources became stretched, pre-identified units from surrounding jurisdictions were alerted and communicated on the same channel as DC units. There were no apparent coordination or communications issues … police, fire, emergency medical services, transit, and emergency management officials worked together in a unified manner,” the homeland security expert said.

There were, however, some ruffled feelings along the way…  (To read the rest of the story, including comments on the Mayor’s interventions and implications for crisis communications policy and training, please access the Christian Science Monitor.  Web-based media need all the clicks they deserve and can get.)

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5 Comments »

Comment by Mark Chubb

June 24, 2009 @ 7:11 pm

Your post raises an intriguing question: What constitutes an effective emergency response? Is it a question of quantity, quality, or, in some measure, both. If “working in unity” is the “effective response” triggered by the collision, then it suggests that how the emergency services acted together is more important than what they accomplished by doing so. I’m not inclined to take issue with this conclusion, if, in fact, it’s the one you intended to present.

On the other hand, I suspect that observers’ impressions of the event presuppose expectations of rescuers’ efficacy. By exhibiting orderly and well-coordinated action at the scene, their actions demonstrated consistency with this expectation not outright proof of the hypothesis.

Did the response materially effect the loss of life? Or was it simply the case that the response reassured us that someone in an official capacity was there to support people in a time of need?

Amanda Ripley, author of The Unthinkable, has reminded us in recent days through her blog that the true first responders to this incident, like most others, were the passengers themselves. The focus on emergency services and Metro overlooks the fact that the unsung heroes of this disaster, like most others, are those people we blithely lump together under the unfortunate heading of “victims.”

People resist victimhood and all it implies. Their first impulse is always oriented toward making sense of their unfortunate, if not always unforeseen, circumstances. As the novelty wears off and the reality sinks in, their actions tend toward meaning-making, that is to say actions that reflect a sense of agency and purpose.

Much of the most pointed criticism aimed at the mayor and Metro officials has underscored disdain for what may have to been taken as lingering suspicion of human nature. Are leaders who parse the truth about a situation projecting their values onto the public or are they simply ignorant of the abundant evidence of innately adaptive and altruistic human tendencies in times of crisis?

Comment by christopher tingus

June 25, 2009 @ 2:45 pm

Apparently from reports, while citizens shed their everyday selfishness as they tend to do especially in a crisis they share with one another making every attempt to comfort those fellow passengers in need, the esteemed first responders were organized and acted in team unity to quickly determine the scene administering immediate medical attention to those with priority.

I have recommended in various media responses open to public comment that the DC transit system as well as in other metro areas place numerous LED type signs on trains as well as at the platforms and throughout stations offering “clarity” in the exact nature of the incident being reported as soon as it is determined.

Passengers need to know what has caused such substantial delay so that they can begin to make alternate personal travel plans.

Unfortunately from passenger accounts, the Metro system did not act fast enough in providing such information which led to much warranted criticism.

Also, these LED signs and audio voice should advise transit passengers alternative recommendations to move passengers along giving free transit during the emergency event helping to expedite travel when the system is overwhelmed as it was during this event causing those passengers not directly involved to endure much delay and challenge to get through the system.

While civil defense procedures should be given proper attention with every community prepared to address its respective populace in the case of disaster, it appears that better training and communications among first responders is paying off as we saw in this incident unfortunately resulting in death and substantial injury.

The present administration must address civil defense with a new focused and funded initiative as well as assuring that the 250 metro communities as well as all police officers, firefighters and EMT’s from suburb to rural areas are afforded more federal funding support as the economic challenges confronting town managers, police and fire chiefs are adversly affecting first response in some areas compromising Life as well as the safety for first responders.

Christopher Tingus
64 Whidah Drive
Harwich (Cape Cod), MA 02645 USA
chris.tingus@gmail.com

Pingback by Quickly Noted: DC Metro Crash « In Case of Emergency

June 26, 2009 @ 5:10 am

[...] Homeland Security Watch passes along an article from the Christian Science Monitor about the success of the rescue effort, and the utter failure of [...]

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 27, 2009 @ 6:21 pm

Again the distinction between Public Affairs and Emergency Public Information is critical to an effective response and minimization of an expanded incident/event. Also, not sure how DC’s real chain of command operated but would be of great interest to see this event examined in great detail and juxtaposed with the Metro rail fatality and wreck occuring coincidentally with the Air Florida crash in 1982!

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 28, 2009 @ 3:10 am

Several competent bloggers are now reporting details in the response that give pause over DC response. See CRISISBLOGGER as an example.

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