Plan for system redundancies to ensure appropriate incident response activities and continuity of operations during emergency situations.

The National Capital Region's experiences in emergency response after September 11, 2001.

March 2002
Washington,District of Columbia,United States; Montgomery County,Maryland,United States; Fairfax County,Virginia,United States

Background (Show)

Lesson Learned

To support emergency response efforts in a major crisis, redundancy should be built into systems so that appropriate incident response activities and continuity of operations could be ensured. The redundancy should encompass: (a) equipment (such as fail-safe communications), (b) processes (such as command and control systems and real-time communications exchange), and (c) human elements (such as the physical distribution of senior managers). The experiences of the transportation agencies and their emergency management partners in the National Capital Region revealed specific examples of redundancies that deserve consideration:
  • Implement redundant telecommunications systems to ensure fail-safe real-time exchange of information among the responders during a disaster. Telephones were the main communications technology used on September 11 at Washington, D.C.'s command center. But when circuits jammed on the East Coast, the center switched to cellular devices and global satellite phones, instant messaging available through Yahoo!, and e-mail.
    The Executive Director of the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) argued that one of the critical needs exposed by the events of September 11 was the need for a truly fail-safe communications, command and control system. Systems depending upon cellular telephones, and even some landlines, were unreliable. Although some agencies had satellite phones, they often were not in the hands of the people who needed them.
  • Implement redundant operational systems, including alternative traffic operations center, to ensure continuity of operations. The Head of Maryland DOT's Office of Engineering and Procurement and the Department's Emergency Response Manager noted that a major lesson learned from September 11 was the need for redundant systems to ensure continuity of operations. Maryland is considering alternative Traffic Operations Centers, communications systems, and other systems.
  • Consider physically distributing senior managers to avoid a loss of command and control. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) staff pointed out the need for preservation of the “brain trust” of Metrorail and Metrobus operations by distributing the senior managers among different sites. However, lines of authority should be clearly delineated to avoid confusion and to ensure the best use of limited resources.

Before September 11, 2001, emergency planning was performed with minimal regional coordination of the individual jurisdictions. This resulted in significant obstacles and a breakdown in the coordination of command, control, and communication between individual agencies across jurisdictional lines. The incident/emergency response and management were also complicated by the lack of coordination and communication from federal agencies acting unilaterally, with actions ranging from uncoordinated early release of employees to closing of streets and imposition of heightened security checks.

This lesson suggests that, to improve the ability to effectively respond to future crises, the regional transportation operating agencies (e.g., city, county and state departments of transportation; transit agencies), as well as public safety and emergency management agencies (e.g., police and fire departments), will need to design and implement communication systems and protocols that permit fail-safe real-time exchange of messages and information. Such coordinated communication is critical to ensure appropriate incident and emergency response and management.

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Effects of Catastrophic Events on Transportation System Management and Operations: The Pentagon and the National Capitol Region - September 11, 2001

Author: Mark R. Carter, et. al.

Published By: Prepared by SAIC for the FHWA USDOT

Source Date: March 2002

EDL Number: 14119

Other Reference Number: FHWA-JPO-05-042

URL: https://rosap.ntl.bts.gov/view/dot/3931

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Mark Carter, Robert Sanchez
202-366-2196, 859-626-5109
@saic.com, Robert.R.Sanchez@saic.com

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Lesson ID: 2006-00215