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Posted at 5:14 PM ET, 06/24/2009

A Metro Crash Revelation: Progress on Preparedness

By Vince Rinehart

By Daniel J. Kaniewski

There was one good piece of news to emerge from Monday’s horrific Metro crash on the Red Line: The response to the tragedy demonstrated that an increased focus on local and regional preparedness after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has better prepared the Washington area not only for acts of terrorism but also for the full range of unexpected emergencies that can strike a region.

Within minutes of the accident, which killed at least nine people and injured more than 75, scores of emergency vehicles from the District and surrounding jurisdictions descended upon the scene. As I monitored the radio traffic of the local agencies involved, I expected to hear chaos; instead, I heard the calm and ordered dispatch of emergency units, along with informative reports from first-responders.

Thanks to extensive regional planning, the Washington area didn’t seem to suffer from some of the challenges faced by other jurisdictions in similar emergencies. Public safety leaders, for example, weren’t jockeying for control of the incident site; rather police, fire, emergency medical services, transit and emergency management officials worked together in a unified manner. When D.C. resources became stretched, pre-identified units from surrounding jurisdictions were alerted, smoothly joining the rescue operation. There were no apparent coordination or communications issues.

The ability of hospitals to handle a large influx of injured patients -- the so-called “surge capacity” -- was also critical. It appears that extensive planning by area hospitals paid off on Monday, as no single hospital was overwhelmed with casualties.

Monday’s coordinated effort stands in contrast to the chaotic response to what was previously the deadliest incident in Metro history. On Jan. 13, 1982, just a half-hour after Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into the icy Potomac River, a rush-hour train derailment near the Federal Triangle station killed three passengers and injured 25 others. During these incidents, the entire emergency response system became overwhelmed and critical systems failed. Coordination between emergency workers from responding jurisdictions was unwieldy, and radio communications were difficult. Rescuers who faced this calamity were forced to act on instinct rather than formal training.

As the investigation continues into the cause of Monday’s crash, public safety agencies and health-care providers will undoubtedly pause and evaluate the effectiveness of their response. Any “lessons learned” will further improve the area’s response system, making the region even better prepared to respond to the next major incident, whether it be an accident or an act of terrorism.

The writer is deputy director of George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute.

By Vince Rinehart  | June 24, 2009; 5:14 PM ET
Categories:  Metro, public health  
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I was heading out on the Red Line, just south of Brookland when the collision took place. The metro train operator did a good job of relaying information to passengers as events unfolded. Metro's email alerts did not. I'm guessing the entire alert system is automated because we kept getting alerts stating there were technical difficulties between Fort Totten & Silver Spring. The alerts never mentioned a collision took place (even days after the fact).

Metro needs to add a few more "situations" to their alert system or allow a human to write the alerts (when the situation calls for it). In addition, it needs to send them out in a more timely fashion (historically, you get the alert after you are able to act upon the information -- other then phoning that you'll be late).

Posted by: kmurray2 | June 25, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Kaniewski's analysis is simpleton and shallow, obviously designed for a general public that would know no different.

Comparing it to another event 27 years ago is the height of frelling BS, and by default you seem to work through your words to claim the recent event successes to your Bushie White House and homeland security programs.

DC and region fire, ems, police, and others, did a great job now, 27 years ago, and will tomorrow.

The Nation, however, is almost completely unprepared for the catastrophic. You and your cohorts in the White House, DHS, and FEMA left the hard work for the next (current) Administration....

I believe that like the former VP Cheney seems to be wishing for a terrorist attack, your ilk, who have all now returned to the trough to feed on public dollars based upon your former titles and positions and nothing more, are hoping something really big will happen, soon (and the response will be frelled because you left no true "system"), so that you all can claim that the new Administration should the Washington Post...bla...bla...bla....

Posted by: BruceBlack | June 25, 2009 8:41 PM | Report abuse

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