Stay or Go?
In this era of terror mayhem it behooves us all to think through how we would react in a potentially lethal environment.
This past Monday afternoon a Washington, D.C., metrorail train stopped in a tunnel after an arcing incident occurred on the track.
The loaded train apparently remained stationary as heavy smoke poured into the cars.
One person died and dozens were injured, some critically.
Firefighters reached the train after 40 minutes.
Command and No Control
News reports suggest that the train operator was in communication with Metrorail’s command center as well as the manager at the closest station.
While no one knows what the command center said it has been reported that the station manager would not allow the train to return.
One can imagine the quality and clarity of that three-way communication loop where those trying to make decisions are the farthest from the event.
Isn’t a train loaded with passengers and filling with smoke analogous to an aircraft or ship under similar conditions?
In those cases it is the “captain” who is immediately responsible for passenger safety. Â They are closest to the emergency, have the most information and make the decisions.
Imagine a flight crew asking for permission (and being denied) to return to an airport with heavy smoke in the cabin.
The National Transportation Safety Board will presumably sort out the details but it proves that the current system is not capable of making a relatively timely decision about whether or not to move an operable train to the nearest station for evacuation even if it is on fire.
Failing that, nor can they apparently confirm that third rail power is down in the area as DC Fire and EMS personnel are reported to have waited 20 minutes at the closest station for confirmation.
If the train is operable and the track is clear why not move immediately to a station so that passengers can be quickly evacuated and the fire controlled?
If it is not operable and conditions are deteriorating, evacuate.
Speaking of failed communication, any metrorail rider knows how the train P.A. systems either do not work or the volume is adjusted so low that nary a word of the announcement can be either deciphered or even heard.
Imagine being in an emergency under such conditions.
In addition, train operators often announce a departure from, or arrival at, the wrong station, sometimes even on the wrong line. Â Passengers just role their eyes if they know or look confused (and panicky) if they don’t.
World Trade Center Two
Tower two was struck 16 minutes after tower one but collapsed first and after only 57 minutes.
The tower two evacuation was largely successful because occupants relied on their instincts.
They saw tower one being hit and simply decided to leave despite the fact that a P.A. announcement advised otherwise.
In fact, studies show that listening to P.A. announcements actually delayed a successful evacuation.
In addition, sticking around to find out more information increased the evacuation delay by 1.5 to 2.6 times.
Simply put, if you hung around to find out what the experts had to say you were risking your life.
If you are unable to breath it may not be time to leave but it damn sure is time to fully investigate ALL options whatever the voice of authority is saying.
A Crucial Caveat
9/11 studies also showed that building occupants were largely clueless about what to do in an emergency.
If you are going to walk to safety from a metrorail car you better bone up on:
-How to exit the car safely
-Knowing the location of the third rail
-Staying on the raised safety walk as you move to the nearest station.
See you in the tunnel.