Recommends more robust process to ensure effective communication during Metro emergencies
Jan 22 2015
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today asked the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Agency (WMATA), the board which governs the Metro transit system, to work together to create a more robust and transparent process for ensuring the interoperability of radio networks used by the region’s emergency responders. The request follows yesterday’s congressional briefing by WMATA executives and officials with the National Transportation Safety Board investigating the fatal Jan. 12th smoke incident onboard a Metro train at Washington D.C.’s L’Enfant Plaza station. The initial investigation, and subsequent media reports, confirmed that radio issues prevented DC fire and rescue personnel from communicating with each other and with Metro officials at the scene of the emergency.
“It makes sense for these regional oversight boards to work together to design a credible and much more robust process for sharing information whenever any of these local public safety agencies makes a significant enough change to impact the interoperability of emergency radio networks,” Sen. Warner said. “In a region like this, where we have multiple federal, state, and local agencies who respond together, we must have greater confidence, and Metro riders deserve to know, that these first responders can effectively communicate with each other at the scene of an emergency.”
The text of Sen. Warner’s the letter follows, and a PDF of the signed letter can be accessed here.
January 22, 2015
Mort Downey William Euille
Board of Directors, Chairman Board of Directors, Chairman
WMATA Washington Council of Governments
600 5th St. NW 777 North Capitol St. NE, Suite 300
Washington, D.C. 20001 Washington, D.C. 20002
Dear Mr. Downey and Mayor Euille,
Leaders of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) briefed members of the Virginia, Maryland and District of Columbia congressional delegations on Wednesday to provide preliminary information on the fatal Jan. 12, 2015 smoke incident at Metro’s L’Enfant Plaza station. We discussed the current status of the NTSB’s investigation into the incident, as well as broader current efforts to make safety improvements to the Metro system serving hundreds of thousands of daily commuters and visitors to the national capital region. Although we received answers to some of our questions, many other questions have been left unanswered.
One area of particular concern to me was the breakdown in radio communications among first responders as they attempted to reach the stationary train car to rescue stranded passengers. It is apparent that the process WMATA and its partners currently employs to address communication problems needs greater oversight and urgency. According to officials participating in Wednesday’s briefing, WMATA was alerted to problems with radio communications at L’Enfant Plaza by D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services on January 8th. Although there are reports which suggest Metro employees began looking into the problems over the weekend of Jan.11-12, WMATA apparently did not schedule a time to collaboratively address the issue with D.C. fire officials until January 14 -- nearly one week later. Tragically, as we all know, the fatal accident occurred in this intervening period.
Radio communication for first responders in any emergency is of vital importance. I strongly urge WMATA to work more closely with its local partners, and in a more transparent and robust way, to correct specific interoperability issues in a much more timely and responsible way. Metro’s riders deserve better than to rely on a transit system in which emergency communications equipment is known to be inadequate or ineffective, yet no sense of urgency is demonstrated to fix the problems.
I know that local public safety networks and radio systems operate independently. I would strongly suggest that WMATA, in conjunction with COG, develop a process in which each jurisdiction notifies its partners and tests equipment whenever updates or other significant changes are made. Because WMATA owns and maintains much of the infrastructure through which those systems operate during emergency events, it is imperative that WMATA proactively engage its local emergency response partners on a regular and sustained basis to ensure that all of its communications infrastructure and equipment is properly up-to-date and functioning appropriately. Passenger safety on the nation’s second largest transit system requires no less.
Yesterday, we were assured that WMATA has corrected the specific communication problem that existed at L’Enfant Plaza on Jan. 12. However, I would request some assurances that WMATA has proactively tested the entire system – in close coordination with local first response agencies – to ensure the interoperability and integrity of the entire network over the entire Metro system. I further understand that COG already is actively engaged in assessing the effectiveness of cellular telephone capacity across the Metro system. I would suggest that COG and WMATA further partner to design and implement this project to ensure emergency response interoperability and communications infrastructure across the entire system, and ensure that it is maintained going forward. I would appreciate a status update, or at least a credible work plan, no later than Jan. 30th.
Since the 9/11 attacks more than thirteen years ago, our nation has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to improve emergency communications and provide reliable and secure interoperable public safety networks. Progress should not be undone, and more lives should not be put at risk, because we have failed to maintain and update our emergency communication infrastructure.
MARK R. WARNER
United States Senator