More emergency management work ahead for WMATA, audit

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Written by

Marybeth Luczak, Editor-in-Chief

The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission (WMSC) released an audit report of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) emergency management and fire and life safety programs on February 22 that it says demonstrates ” some improvements since the 2015 smoke accident near L’Enfant”. Plaza Station*, including significantly improved training and system familiarization for local first responders”; however, more work is needed.

Following extensive interviews, site visits, and document and data reviews conducted in 2021, the Independent Safety Commission also found areas where WMATA “does not meet its own written requirements; does not have adequate procedures, processes or requirements; or does not have adequate training, coordination and supervision. Consequently, the WMSC audit (download below) presented 14 findings requiring the transit agency to develop corrective action plans (CAPs) and five recommendations that need to be addressed.

Here are highlights of the 14 findings that require CAPs:

  1. WMATA “does not consistently follow the Incident Command System (ICS) structure and has procedures that do not conform to National Incident Management System (NIMS)/ICS requirements such as the use of plain language “. Additionally, “training requirements are insufficient to prepare personnel to respond to and/or manage emergencies within the NIMS/ICS framework. These shortcomings have contributed to ineffective and inappropriate emergency response and management.
  2. The transit agency “created and implemented an ‘Incident Management Manager’ (IMO) position without documented training, responsibilities, communication or coordination, and without adequate personnel to ensure that other management activities emergencies and preparedness are not interrupted”.
  3. Metro Transit Police Department personnel ‘regularly enter the roadway [track areas] despite the absence of RWP [Roadway Worker Protection] qualifications” that WMATA rules and procedures require, “exposing yourself and others to the risk of serious injury or death.”
  4. The Metro Transit Police Department’s general orders “do not reflect current operational realities and procedures, and areas for improvement from past events are not effectively communicated to frontline MTPD personnel.”
  5. WMATA’s “calls to public safety response points (911 call centers) are inconsistent, incomplete, and contribute to delayed or ineffective emergency response.”
  6. The transit agency “has not clearly defined and communicated the authority and duties of its fire marshal and any other fire prevention roles or positions, and does not have effective continuity plans in the event unavailability of the fire marshal”.
  7. WMATA does not warrant that fire and life safety experts are included and have a documented role in the development, planning, review and approvals of its project, “which contributes to the introduction of hazards into the [WMATA] that the system or hazards may continue to exist without adequate mitigation measures.
  8. “Coordination between organizational units responsible for developing, inspecting and maintaining critical fire and life safety assets is inadequate, and there is no unified process for identifying, prioritizing and addressing risks fire and life safety.
  9. WMATA “does not routinely conduct risk assessments to assess and prioritize fire and life safety and emergency management issues.” Additionally, it “has failed to establish a process for identifying, tracking, and resolving open elements of fire and life safety and emergency management hazards to prioritize and implement safety improvements” .
  10. “The emergency equipment in the station’s medical cabinets is outdated and covered in filth. There is no inspection procedure or responsible party responsible for inspecting and maintaining this safety equipment.”
  11. WMATA “does not perform systematic underground inspections to ensure safe exit and fire and life safety response, and has set minimum tunnel emergency lighting levels that are not up to standard. NFPA minimums”.
  12. “The exit stairwell at Rosslyn Station is not protected from obstructions, creating a risk that the hatch cannot be opened in an emergency, trapping customers inside.”
  13. WMATA does not “systematically inspect and maintain the current certification status of all fire extinguishers, especially those on the roadway”.
  14. The transit agency “does not consistently perform or document all items of its fire and intrusion alarm system inspection preventative maintenance instructions.”

The Safety Commission also recommended that WMATA expand training and coordination of training related to fire and life safety and emergency management; develop an “emergency incident checklist”; ensure uniformity of fire and life safety signaling throughout the system; determine appropriate staffing for fire and life safety and emergency management and related disciplines, and provide appropriate workforce structure and staffing levels; and identify and communicate radio system outages to Metro Transit Police Department officers.

Among the positive practices, the safety committee noted:
• WMATA regularly provides training to local fire departments. This training “represents a substantial improvement since the 2015 smoke accident near L’Enfant Plaza station, and…has increased the comfort level of firefighters” with the transit system.
• First aid kits were present in the kiosks of the stations at all the places checked.
• In April 2021, WMATA updated its fire watch manual, which “clearly identifies responsible parties, information and procedures required”.
• Preventive maintenance inspections (PMI) for fire and life safety systems are automatically scheduled and tracked on a recurring basis.
• WMATA has replaced metal caps with plastic caps on many standpipes “in an effort to reduce the theft of metal caps so that standpipes remain in service without interruption.”

The next steps for WMATA are to propose a corrective action plan (CAP) for each audit finding and respond to each recommendation no later than 30 days after the report is issued, according to the safety commission.

* context

WMSC provided the following history in its audit: WMATA’s emergency management, fire and life safety programs and assets were thoroughly investigated and reviewed in 2015 and 2016, at following the fatal electric arc and smoke accident of 12 January 2015 near L’Enfant. Station Square. Features of these areas were also examined in 2009 and 2010 following the June 22, 2009 fatal Red Line accident involving the collision of two Red Line trains near Fort Totten Station. These occurrences were investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). In 2015, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) conducted a Safety Management Inspection (SMI) of [WMATA] and later assumed direct security oversight of [WMATA]. Direct oversight of the ALE continued until the establishment of the WMSC and until the ALE certified the WMSC security program in March 2019.”

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