WMATA Board Member and DC Council Member Muriel Bowser told an Incident Communications Panel at the 10/11/2012 WMATA Safety and Security Committee meeting what she’d do “if this were my railroad”. Perhaps someone could let Ms. Bowser know that WMATA is in fact her railroad as an active boardmember at WMATA?
In the exchange she tells Dan Stessel’s boss, Lynn Bowersox, the media relations department isn’t cutting it and that she doesn’t want the media coming to her asking questions.
The full 1 hour 20 minutes of the committee meeting can be heard here:
Transcript: (feel free to skip to the last paragraph)
Bowser: ”Thank you. Um. What I continue to be troubled with, and I agree with Ms. Porter that I think the public safety aspects seem to be inline but I continue to think that we need a public face of these incidents. It seems like the, and you even had on your slide, it doesn’t matter who’s at the top giving out that information, it could be anybody. I don’t think it should be “anybody”. I think that the public really wants to see that the authority is taking this incident seriously that the top levels, a recognizable person is delivering the information. I think that’s really what it takes. And that’s what I would expect if I was stuck on a train. And so I think that it very much matters who’s face that is at the top and that it’s recognizable and that people have confidence in the incident being handled. What I’m struck by in this conversation is, kinda, we’re desensitized to these incidents almost – that’s what it sounds like to me. That there’s going to be a certain level, you can call it “service disruption” we can call it whatever we want but what people call it though is being stuck on a train or being crammed into buses that may or may not be waiting for them when they get off of the platform. So I think we have to be very careful, while we can talk about the orderliness and certainly public safety is first… it matters who’s delivering that message and I think that, and I’ve had this conversation here before, but I really think that our senior management needs to be out there when we’re having major incidents communicating this. The way that, and I don’t have to tell you, the way our news works is they want to see people, ok? So, if Metro officials who have all of the information won’t be available to give that information then they’re going to come to me, or they could come to you, with less information. Or they’re going to go to the passengers who have even less information. So, what are we doing about establishing a public face to the incident, to the fix?”
Bowersox: “So, I’d like to respond, I guess, to those comments in a couple of ways. One of the things that Mr. Kubichek’s group and bus collaboratively are working on with us is the in-person response in the event of an emergency. And what we know from our customers, to Ms. Bowser’s point, is that what’s a comfort to them in the event that they’re stuck on a train is seeing first responders and people of authority who can give them a sense of security and direction and information. And what they’ve said to us is that can be a Metro official in a neon-green vest or it can be one of the Chief’s front-line guys or it can be a police officer. But that’s what they’re looking for. What we’ve done in addition to dispatching police to trains that become disabled on a consistant basis very quickly after we learn that the train has been standing is also dispatching rail supervisors to those locations. And so now we have both operating specialists and we police on-hand even typically before the fire department arrives so that we can provide direction, information, security to those customers who may be stuck on that train. That also backs up the operator. Cause to your point, the operator’s trying to do a lot of things at once and if the power to that train is compromised and they can’t use the PA system they’re also trying to walk through the train to identify what conditions might exist. So the police are there, the rail supervision is there in order to identify medical conditions, in order to give comfort to the passengers and in order to be that face of the institution that is guiding them through the emergency.
Above that level of what is going on on the train or on a bus in another set of circumstances there is the communications to everybody else who is sort of observing and watching that operation unfold and we have instituted a protocol where our media relations staff do go to incidents of a certain level – they can’t get to every time a train is offloaded for example but any time there is a significant issue on our system media relations is also there giving information through the media to customers and to stakeholders and that’s become standard operating procedure for us.”
Bowser: “I just, and you’re going to proceed how you like, I just think that’s the wrong way to go. That you leave yourself a void and I promise you this: somebody’s going to step into it and they’re going to step into it not to paint Metro in a positive way. I would just strongly recommend that if this were my railroad that’s what I’d do because I see that coming down the pike, that people are just gathering energy around just pouncing on every incident at Metro. That’s my 2 cents.”