Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Transit Agencies and Exercises: The Ties that Bind

Regular exercises play a critical role in helping transit agencies evaluate and improve their levels of emergency preparedness and overall resilience. Transit agencies must carefully consider how to design, deliver, and evaluate each exercise in order to maximize its effectiveness. One aspect of successful planning is identifying critical participants from intersecting jurisdictions, such as the owners and operators of the transit system, and the entities who support its response and recovery during incidents.  The final crowning achievement of every exercise is the After-Action Report and Improvement Plan that spells out corrective actions to enhance the resiliency of the entire transportation system.

Designing an exercise program to include response and recovery partners from multiple jurisdictions can be challenging, but it also provides an exceptional and rewarding opportunity for participants.

Below are Hagerty Consulting, Inc.’s (Hagerty’s) recommended questions to consider when engaging regional partners and laying the foundation for a successful exercise program:

What keeps you up at night?

Most transit agencies have specific “what if” questions or concerns about potential threats or vulnerabilities that could present a significant risk to life, safety, and/or the agency’s reputation. Answers to these “what if” questions often rely upon the actions of first responder agencies for a successful response and recovery. Well-designed exercises are an excellent opportunity to test and validate plans, policies, procedures, and equipment in a “no-threat” environment. When the exercise exposes gaps or areas for improvement, transit agencies will be armed with the knowledge to begin fixing the issues and improving overall preparedness.

What do your regional partners need to know about your system?

Transit agency personnel are the experts when it comes to the design, functionality, safety, and security of their system. When simulating an incident, agencies should test knowledge of the system’s design, operation, hazards, access points, safety equipment, and emergency evacuation procedures. Exercises are not just for agency staff but also for the first responders who serve as critical partners during response to and recovery from an event. It is important to ask:

  • Do partners know how to safely perform emergency operations in and around the agency’s modes of transit?
  • How long has it been since partners had an opportunity to practice emergency operations?
  • Are any special tools or equipment needed to assist first responders?
  • How can the transit agency provide an opportunity to train with these tools?

When planning exercises, it is also beneficial to consider the agency’s operating footprint and make an effort to engage regional partners who, while less familiar with the agency’s system, may be critical in responding to an incident, in addition to partners with whom the agency regularly interacts.

What do your personnel need to practice the most?

This question is the driving force behind designing successful exercises. Personnel at every level of your organization may need to assist with actions, such as emergency procedures; passenger evacuations; coordinating response and recovery efforts with other jurisdictions; managing the Emergency Operations Center (EOC); addressing the media; or making policy-level decisions, such as altering, stopping, or resuming service. From senior executives to frontline staff, all personnel should be prepared and understand their role in emergency and disaster situations.

How can you maximize this opportunity?

Transit agency exercises are an excellent way to build relationships and emergency preparedness capacity throughout entire regions.  Examining the exercise requirements of regulatory agencies, grant programs, and capital projects to inform exercise design will maximize the opportunity and reduce the duplication of effort. Exercises should also build on the training and exercise requirements of regional partners. Implementing joint exercises may reduce exercise fatigue; ensure all partners are familiar with the role and needs of the transit agency during an event; and increase efficiency of available resources.

How do you plot a path forward?

Due to the number of jurisdictions involved, potential vulnerabilities, and regulatory requirements, it may be hard to know exactly where to begin and how to maintain focus over time. Starting with a Training and Exercise Planning Workshop (TEPW) that includes internal and external partners and uses an all-hazards approach may help identify future exercise needs. A workshop forum provides an opportunity to answer the questions listed above and will help to identify the training and exercise priorities of your agency and surrounding network. The result of this workshop should be a Multi-Year Training and Exercise Plan (MYTEP) that clearly identifies the agency’s training and exercise program priorities and implementation timeline. This Plan will help your program remain focused and stay on course even through personnel changes and the revolving door of hot topics.

Tim Schaible is a planning and emergency management specialist with over ten years of professional experience in emergency management and public safety, specializing in mass transit preparedness. His work with Hagerty Consulting as a Project Manager with multiple major transit authorities and passenger rail service providers across the United States includes emergency planning, training, and exercise initiatives that have yielded significant findings and corrective actions for transit providers and emergency response agencies.

Jim McIntosh is a Managing Associate at Hagerty Consulting, supporting the Preparedness Division clients with a special focus on the Transit service line. Throughout his career he has gained extensive experience preparing for, responding to, and recovering from real-world emergencies, disasters, and pre-planned events in the mass transit environment. Jim has also developed numerous exercises to validate and improve upon agency plans, policies, procedures, training, and equipment following HSEEP methodology. Prior to Hagerty, Jim gained over 20 years of professional experience serving as a Firefighter, Emergency Medical Technician, County Emergency Manager, Transit Authority Emergency Manager, and as an Emergency Management Consultant that has supported local, state, federal, and private sector clients. Jim holds a master’s degree in Emergency and Disaster Management and is a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) through the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM).

Rebecca Downey is an Associate at Hagerty Consulting, supporting project delivery for our Preparedness Division clients. Rebecca currently works on projects and initiatives ranging from recovery planning to exercise development and After-Action reporting. Rebecca will be graduating with a Master of Professional Studies in Emergency and Disaster Management from Georgetown University in May 2020.