New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania Caught Off Guard by Weather, Transportation Flooded

New York City’s subway system flooded in areas as a result of intense rains that first devastated New Orleans, the state of Louisiana and then headed north. Reports says first responders rescued commuters from halted subway trains on Wednesday evening after a two onslaught of rain flooded subway stations. Some riders were left to fend for themselves overnight in subway stations, sleeping on benches while service was suspended. Riders said they had never seen anything like the flooding happening Wednesday evening.

Reports of deaths due to the flooding have steadily increased as reports are arriving from the community and as it stands now 45 people have been reportedly died due to the weather event. There are reports of more than 500 abandoned vehicles on the streets of New York City. In a press conference in the Queens borough of New York, newly sworn in Governor Kathy Hochul said, “We need to foresee these in advance and be prepared.” Some reports say that more than six inches of water fell in two-to-three hours. Central Park recorded 3.15 inches of rain in one hour. First responders were forced to rescue people by boat from the roofs of their cars. Many were evacuated from the trains and subways in the area. Some subway lines were still not operating into late Thursday, September 2.

Philadelphia, Penn. was also severely impacted with flooding and water rescues ensuing. Some reports called damage in that area “vast.”

Trains Collide in Boston, Mass.

Multiple injuries were reported as a result of two Boston Transit trains colliding Friday, July 30, 2021, according to the Massachusetts Bay Transport Authority.

A Boston Fire Department Tweet said: “Update for trolley accident at Commonwealth Av & Pleasant St… we have a count of 23 patients transported by multiple EMS agencies. No life threatening injuries reported at this time. Please avoid area.”

The accident involved two Green Line trains near Babcock Street. Twenty-three people were taken to the hospital.

Railways, Roads Closed Between Addis Ababa and Djibouti

Protesters, upset by a militia attack in the region that killed many, have blocked roads and railways in Ethiopia’s Somali region. Roads and railways between the capital of Addis Ababa to the seaport of Djibouti were blocked according to reports coming out of the region.

Protesters are demanding an end to violent incidents that have happened repeatedly in the past several weeks, that they say were initiated by armed men from the Somali Isa ethnic groups. These incidents killed an undetermined number of people and caused property destruction, the protester say.

Almost all imports into the nation are transported across these blocked routes. The result of the blockage has yet to be felt or seen. The recent militia attack was reportedly over boundary disputes. Area leaders have said that they are working with the protesters to clear the roads and railways.

French Parliament Green Lights Law Requiring Covid Pass for Travel

French parliament passed a law earlier this week requiring virus passes for all restaurants and for domestic travel in spite of recent protests against it. The law also requires all health workers to be vaccinated.

French President Emmanuel Macron was firm saying the mandates are needed to protect others and avoid more lockdowns. To get the covid pass proof of being fully vaccinated is required in paper or digital format. It will be necessary to present the health pass to enter all restaurants, trains, planes and certain public venues.

Shortage of Train Drivers Causing Concern in Ore Mining Areas of Australia

Reports out of Australia say there is a critical shortage of train drivers especially in the Pilbara iron ore area. The train operators are planning to try and increase driver ranks by up to 45%. Brandon Craig, an iron ore asset president, told attendees at the Austmine conference recently they were “fast-tracking the delivery of critical maintenance-focused trades and qualifications,” through a their FutureFit academy. “We are also recruiting 200 new train drivers as trainees to address this critical skills shortage in WA,” Craig added. Some jobs, like train drivers, are thought to be headed towards extinction due to automation. However, this trend is proving otherwise. For now, train companies are asking drivers to work longer and additional hours.

Tibet Bullet Train Opens

Tibet Bullet Train Opens

An electrified railway in southwest the Tibet Autonomous Region of China opened in late June. The train connects capital city Lhasa with Nyingchi. More “Fuxing” bullet trains will enter official operation in the region in coming months. The first train has a length of 435 km aThe system has nine stations in Lhasa, Shannan and Nyingchi for either passengers or freight transportation.

The Tibet system was especially difficult to build due to the altitudes and topography. The railroad contains 47 tunnels, 121 bridges, and crosses the Yarlung Zangbo River 16 times. Tunnels and bridges account for about 75 percent of the total length of the railway, Chinese authorities said.

CSX Announces Senior Leadership Changes

CSX Corp. announced the appointments of Mark K. Wallace as executive vice president of CSX, Kevin S. Boone as executive vice president of sales and marketing, and Sean R. Pelkey as vice president and acting chief financial officer. In his new role, Wallace will focus on special projects and initiatives supporting the president and chief executive officer.

“These appointments demonstrate the depth of CSX’s leadership and place us in a position of strength,” James M. Foote, president and chief executive officer said. “Kevin’s proven track record of implementing and executing successful strategic initiatives will provide strong direction to CSX’s sales and marketing team as we focus on capturing sustainable and profitable growth. Sean’s broad experience at CSX, as well as his deep knowledge of our industry, will continue to strengthen our financial performance and shareholder value.”

Kevin S. Boone, executive vice president of sales and marketing said: “I am honored to have the opportunity to lead CSX’s growth initiatives and build upon the strong foundation Mark has established. CSX has never been in a better position to drive growth as we leverage industry-leading service and deliver new innovative solutions to our customers.”

Boone, who most recently served as executive vice president and chief financial officer, joined the Company in September 2017 as a vice president responsible for investor relations. He then was appointed vice president of marketing and strategy to lead research and data analysis to advance growth strategies. He has over 18 years of experience in finance, mergers and acquisitions, and accounting, primarily focused on the transportation and industrial sectors.

Pelkey joined CSX in 2005, and most recently served as vice president, finance and treasury. Pelkey has 16 years of experience in finance and capital management, and previously served as assistant vice president, capital markets and investor relations.

Wabtec and GM to Develop Advanced Ultium Battery and Hydrogen Fuel Cells for Rail

Wabtec and General Motors announced they will collaborate to develop and commercialize GM’s Ultium battery technology and HYDROTEC hydrogen fuel cell systems for Wabtec locomotives.

“The rail industry is on the cusp of a sustainable transformation with the introduction of batteries and hydrogen to power locomotive fleets,” said Rafael Santana, CEO and president of Wabtec. “Our FLXdrive locomotive, the world’s first 100-percent battery powered locomotive, has proven its potential to slash carbon emissions by up to 30 percent when operating at 6 MWh. But we can’t stop there. By working with GM on Ultium battery and HYDROTEC hydrogen fuel cell technologies, we can accelerate the rail industry’s path to decarbonization and pathway to zero-emission locomotives by leveraging these two important propulsion technologies.”

Wabtec and GM signed a nonbinding memorandum of understanding to advance the two companies’ shared vision of a zero-emissions future in transportation. Wabtec will bring energy management and systems optimization knowledge to develop a solution for heavy haul locomotives in conjunction with GM’s advanced technologies.

“Rail networks are critical to transportation and to GM’s ability to serve our customers across North America, and Wabtec’s bold plan to de-carbonize heavy haul and other locomotive applications helps advance our vision of a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion,” said Mark Reuss, GM president. “Wabtec’s decision to deploy GM’s Ultium battery and HYDROTEC hydrogen fuel cell systems further validates our advanced technology and demonstrates its versatility.”

GM’s HYDROTEC hydrogen fuel cell power cubes are compact and easy to package and can be used in a wide range of applications, including locomotives. HYDROTEC fuel cell systems will be assembled from globally sourced parts by Fuel Cell Systems Manufacturing in Brownstown, Michigan, the manufacturing joint venture between General Motors and Honda.

Preparing for the Worst-Case Scenario: The Importance of an Emergency Response Plan

Preparing for the Worst-Case Scenario: The Importance of an Emergency Response Plan

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think something like this would occur,” asserted the chairman of California’s Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) during a press conference this past May. The media had gathered after the workplace shooting by a VTA employee who killed eight of his colleagues, causing a chaotic evacuation of the transit authority’s facilities and the suspension of the city’s light rail service. Police responded quickly to the shooting. Upon their arrival, the shooter allegedly turned his gun on himself.

Safety and security professionals who listened to the VTA chairman’s statement to the media likely asked themselves “why did you NOT think something like this could occur?” Perhaps security managers at the transit authority were well prepared for such an event, and the chairman misspoke. Regardless, the VTA’s light rail service is still suspended. The beleaguered agency succumbed to a one-two-three punch of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a ransomware attack that paralyzed its computer systems for several days in April and now the aftermath of a workplace shooting. The effectiveness of the VTA’s emergency response plan (ERP) for handling security threats is not yet known. However, it is not too early to remind any transportation entity that planning for a crisis is a critical business necessity.

Developing and implementing an effective ERP is not easy. It can cost a lot of money, time, and resources. And it requires expertise and focus. Money is required to pay the salaries of safety/security professionals, incentivize security for executives and staff, develop solid training programs, procure emergency supplies, and implement recommendations from others to improve security. However, in the public domain, the cost of a security failure can become enterprise threatening. Restitution for injury or death, penalties, litigation, and the indirect costs of committing resources to address the aftermath will always end up costing the company far more than would have ever been required had leadership committed greater resources and focus on security initially and continuously.

Any transportation organization — whether it be an airline, cruise line, bus line or rail line — will be expected to cooperate with local authorities, respond to media inquiries, provide immediate care to victims, communicate with its employees, take action to resolve deficiencies, and continue to conduct operations for its very survival and reputation.

The Basic Tenets of the Plan

The ERP is essentially a set of procedures that apply to what may be the most difficult time faced by a transportation organization. There is no right or wrong way to develop an emergency response plan — as long as it works. However, it must be clear, comprehensive, and understood by the people on the team. Employees cannot be reasonably expected to respond appropriately when faced with a situation and an overwhelming number of unknowns that are way outside of their experience.

Developing the ERP should never be a “boilerplate” exercise. Taking someone else’s plan and “filling in the blanks” is a recipe for failure. The plan must be tailored to the unique aspects of the organization — size, scope, expertise, resources — and it should cross the entire organization with respect to priorities, resources, and costs. Moreover, most events will not justify a full-blown response, which is why the plan should address categories of events to facilitate the tailoring of the response to be effective without massive inefficiency.

Communication and coordination with city, state and federal law enforcement is key. Communications with the media, and the organization’s employees is also necessary. Finally, providing timely, competent and compassionate support for victims and families in the aftermath of a crisis is perhaps the most important feature of an ERP.

Keys to a Solid Emergency Response Plan

Keys to a Solid Emergency Response Plan

  • Regardless of the mode of transportation, communication and coordination with city, state and federal law enforcement is key to any effective and successful emergency response plan (ERP), experts say.
  • Communications with the media and the organization’s employees is also necessary.
  • Most events will not justify a full-blown response, which is why the plan should address categories of events to facilitate the tailoring of the response.
  • The use of detailed checklists is a key ingredient of a good emergency response plan.
  • Providing timely, competent and compassionate support for victims and families in the aftermath of a crisis is perhaps the most important feature of an ERP.

How the Airlines Do It

The airline industry is very familiar with what is needed — and required — to respond appropriately to an aircraft accident, but a security crisis is another matter. “Our accident ERP is black and white with its own structure. Then, we have a separate structure for ‘everything else’ that is handled by our Crisis Management Team,” explained Penny Neferis, a 22-year veteran at JetBlue Airways who serves as its director of Business Continuity, Disaster Recovery and Emergency Response.

Neferis told Transportation Security International (TSI) that the Crisis Management Team is the core of managing over 20 categories of crises — many of them for security events such as cybersecurity breaches, active shooter situations, and bomb threats. Other non-security issues are also addressed by the team, such as severe weather, fleet groundings, transit strikes, IT outages, and, of course, operating during a pandemic.

“These plans are built to get the departments through the first few hours,” Neferis added. “Our active shooter plan is probably drilled the most.” As an example, Neferis cited the January 2017 shooting near the Terminal 2 baggage claim area at the Ft. Lauderdale International Airport in Florida. Five people were killed and six others were injured. The 26-year-old shooter was taken into custody several minutes after he started shooting. The shooting led to the cancellation of over 300 flights and the evacuation of 10,000 people from the terminal, many of whom spilled onto JetBlue’s ramp area. “Fortunately, our team there had just been through a training exercise, and that really made a difference.”

Penny Neferis; Director Business Continuity, Disaster Recovery and Emergency Response; JetBlue Airways
Penny Neferis; Director Business Continuity, Disaster Recovery and Emergency Response; JetBlue Airways

Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air utilizes a similar emergency response structure, with a separate ERP for aircraft accidents, and a Crisis Management Team for everything else. “Our plans cover anything that could disrupt the crucial function of our stations,” Jana Osborne told TSI. Osborn is the manager of Alaska Airlines’ Emergency Response and Business Continuity department. She has been with the company for 27 years and in her current role for the past seven. She explained that most major airlines recognize the importance of emergency response and are more than willing to share their challenges with each other. “We come together every other week in a teleconference and share lessons learned,” Osborn noted. “We are a tight knit group.”

Checklists

A key ingredient of any ERP should be the development and use of detailed checklists for employees to utilize in the wake of a crisis. Checklists should be developed for each key function and identify tasks to be performed in a logical order. Developing a checklist also forces planners to delve deeply into their operation and establish effective training.

If you think checklists are “overkill,” consider the possibility that 30 percent of your key trained staff will likely not be available during a crisis. A simple, step-by-step checklist can be used by back-up personnel — it may not be ideal, but it is far better than having no one available to handle a task at a critical moment. Additionally, checklists that require the user to record the outcome of each step can serve as a “log” that can then be used to assess the organization’s response.

JetBlue uses checklists and updates them frequently. “For our Crisis Management Team contacts, we update them almost daily,” Neferis explained. “For the plans themselves, we look at them during our quarterly exercises and ensure that all affected departments — such as the operations teams, HR, risk and legal — have their checklists. We make the time to write checklists in advance to get people to think through a crisis. It helps with lessening the chaos, as opposed to just winging it.”

Third-Party Providers

Smaller companies may not have the resources to develop and implement an ERP or crisis management team, creating a market of third-party providers that can do the job for them. These companies can provide employee assistance programs, family assistance, communication centers, media relations, and more. Even large companies like JetBlue and Alaska Airlines — who both developed their own ERP capabilities in house — occasionally bring in help from the outside. According to Neferis, JetBlue has arrangements for “business partners” to assist in certain areas when needed, such as crisis communications. The airline will also will periodically “pull folks in from outside the company to take a look at the plans.”

Rick Hoaglund, Director of Crisis Management Services for Black Swan.
Rick Hoaglund, Director of Crisis Management Services for Black Swan.

One of these outside firms is Black Swan Solutions, a part of Empathia, Inc. that provides crisis management services to transportation entities and others. The term “black swan” is synonymous in the industry with a low probability, high impact event. With a motto of “Prepare/Respond/Recover,” Black Swan Solutions caters to not only commercial air carriers of all shapes and sizes, but also bus lines, city transit systems, and cruise lines. “We provide the whole spectrum of support for a company,” stated Rick Hoaglund, director of Crisis Management Services for Black Swan.

“We can come in and consult with a company to set up their own program, or we can provide all of the support for them.”

Hoaglund should know. His previous job was working for Amazon in its travel risk management group. He saw first-hand the importance of preparing for IT security breaches. In his current role, Hoaglund sets up communication lines for companies that experience database breaches so that customers can have their issues resolved and their security restored. These ad hoc “incident response centers” — the new vernacular for what used to be “call centers” — can be stood up in a moment’s notice for not only IT breaches, but for any security crisis such as a bus line hijacking or cruise ship emergency.

TSI asked Hoaglund if the different modes of transportation require different types of response plans. “Sure, there are unique aspects to every company, but the approach to setting up an ERP for any mode is basically the same,” he replied. “For example, the reporting processes of one company may differ from another.”

But for any mode of transportation, Hoaglund stressed the importance of “outreach” and the tenet of “taking care of people.” For example, if a bus was hijacked or a hostage situation occurred, Black Swan would ensure that the family members of those on the bus would be kept apprised of the situation. He also explained that a security event aboard a cruise ship may also need to be handled differently, since the ship is basically on its own until it can pull into a port. Until then, the crew will need to be self-sufficient in providing medical support, passenger needs, etc.

Still, Hoaglund advises that any company who is developing an ERP should go with a broad approach and cover the basic tenets of an ERP mentioned above, rather than getting caught up in trying to game out every possible crisis scenario.

Jana Osborne; Manager of Alaska Airlines’ Emergency Response and Business Continuity department.
Jana Osborne; Manager of Alaska Airlines’ Emergency Response and Business Continuity department.

Leadership, Training, and Exercise: Ingredients for Success

When it comes to leading an organization’s emergency response planning or crisis management, experience is essential — especially in the early stages when a large-scale crisis is unfolding. There are few organizational structures where so much authority is placed at a level lower than the CEO. The ERP structure should already have the CEO’s full support, or its implementation could not exist. In smaller transportation entities, the ERP is usually run by someone as an “additional duty,” making senior management support even more critical.

The fact that the plan is rarely implemented highlights that training and exercises are extremely important. Resources for the ERP are not a one-shot deal. Regular review is required to make sure that people are still where you thought they were, and still available to do what you had planned for them. Communications gear and other equipment must not only be procured, but also maintained and tested regularly.

An outstanding plan with no training will fail, while a mediocre plan that is well-taught and practiced will likely succeed. “You can’t let these plans collect dust,” said JetBlue’s Neferis. “You have to pull it out and talk about.” Osborn agrees. She said that Alaska Airlines conducts ERP drills two or three times a year. Both airlines conduct an “after action review” of each exercise and make any necessary adjustments to the ERP.

In the end, an emergency response plan is required because it addresses an area that the company rarely, if ever, has experience dealing with, and an area in which failure is not acceptable. What happens if your transportation enterprise lacks a solid ERP? “You run the risk of ruining your brand —and that can happen so quickly these days with social media,” Osborne warned. “You don’t want to harm the relationship with your customers, or your own employees, in the wake of a crisis.” She concluded with a quote from Benjamin Franklin: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

How to Deal with Totally Out of Control Passengers

How to Deal with Totally Out of Control Passengers

Air travel is back, but you might not recognize it anymore. Not a day goes by lately without news headlines and videos on social media of out-of-control airline passengers fighting each other and fighting airline employees. The exact reason for the uptick in violence is a complicated issue. Is it too much alcohol at airport bars and in flight? Perhaps it’s the enforcement of mask wearing onboard. Or maybe it’s just a society that is increasingly angry and violent. Either way, an airline union, TWU Local 556, has called on the Federal Air Marshals (FAMS) to deal with out-of-control passengers at 30,000 feet. The FAMS, in typical fashion, have answered the call as they have on a variety of enforcement duties they have in the past. But it begs the question: is the federal government’s anti-hijacking force the best answer? And is 30,000 feet the place to be dealing with these mostly preventable issues?

The modern-day Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) was born in the ashes of 9/11. They rapidly expanded from a force of 33 to an organization of thousands within a few short months. To be sure, there were growing pains along the way, but the Federal Air Marshal Service is a proud organization staffed with mostly dedicated, selfless employees. The Federal Air Marshal Service is primarily an anti-hijacking force but has proven to be a versatile force that has been used over the years in executive protection, border enforcement, counterterrorism investigations and disaster relief.

Over the years the Air Marshal Service has been under constant scrutiny, having their very existence questioned by the airlines and members of Congress. U. S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., went so far as to call for the elimination of the whole program, saying, The Federal Air Marshal Service is, “the most needless, useless agency in the entire federal government.”

But that didn’t stop others in Congress from having FAMs assigned to their flights after the recent events at the Capitol.

In 2019, the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General (IG) conducted a review of the Federal Air Marshal Service and recommended slashing $394 million of the agency’s $803 million budget. The advice was not heeded, but the writing was on the wall. After years of criticism the ranks of FAMS began to dwindle down through attrition.

So, blowing in the winds of change, the Federal Air Marshal Service is now being asked to intervene in a flying Jerry Springer Show, replete with mask scofflaws, domestic disputes and mutual combatants instead of what they should be focusing on, terrorism.

Long gone is the Golden Age of travel, when people would get dressed up, line up in an orderly fashion and be happy to travel. Look around airports today and you will see frantic, agitated people running through terminals to push their way onto a plane with non-existent service and less leg and elbow room than ever before. Modern air travel is about the airlines squeezing more revenue out of every square inch of that aircraft. When you have unstable people flying it’s enough to push them over the edge. It sometimes pushes well-adjusted individuals over the edge.

Another factor is discounted rates. What we are seeing is what school teachers, bartenders and police officers have been seeing for a very long time, an increase in out of control people in society. When you offer $69 fares that’s what you get. The FAA has received 3,200 reports of unruly passengers and initiated 487 investigations on unruly passengers this year already. In 2020, there were only 183, in 2019, there were 146. This is the new norm of flying. The flight attendants are forced to play mask police with people that can’t or won’t follow basic directions, rules that they agreed to when they purchased the ticket.

You don’t have to be General Stonewall Jackson to know you don’t want to have a fight at cruising altitude. The last place problem passengers should be dealt with is in the air. There are very limited resources, tight space, and innocent passengers packed in. There are no police officers experienced in dealing with out-of-control people, no mental health professionals and no emergency room doctors standing by to deal with injuries.

To be sure, Air Marshals in the normal performance of their duties will protect the aircraft, flight crew and passengers, it’s what they have done since their inception, with remarkable efficiency. But many of these problems could be dealt with on the ground. More effort needs to be made to identify the warning signs of problem passengers through the security and boarding process. If they are a problem there, they are likely to be a problem later in the air.

In the past, Behavior Detection Teams have been used to identify potential terrorists, smugglers and those involved in human trafficking in airports. Behavior detection came under scrutiny in the past, and was viewed as problematic due to racial bias concerns. But behavior detection done right, is without any bias as it is rooted in the science of behavior and nothing else. Among other indicators, Behavior Detection Teams trigger off of signs like agitation and anger. These are exactly the behaviors that should be identified and dealt with on the ground and, if necessary, passengers should be denied boarding if they are deemed unfit to fly.

The number of in-flight emergencies we are seeing should be much lower. If there is any hope to curtail these incidents, it will take the cooperation of airport authorities, stakeholders and Federal Air Marshals. Airport restaurants should limit alcohol service and airlines should staff more gate agents at the gate. Also, efforts should be made to increase police presence and to use Federal Air Marshals in airport terminals to detect issues on the ground with flight assigned Federal Air Marshals dealing with in-flight issues as an absolute last resort.