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Pascrell Directed Study Examines Role of Public Transit Systems in Emergency Evacuations

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC


National Academies' Report Confirms That Projects Which Add Redundancy to Transportation Systems, Such as Planned Hudson River Rail Tunnel, Should Be Given Greater Attention, Resources

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-08) today praised the completion of a report by the National Research Council entitled "The Role of Transit in Emergency Evacuation." While a member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Pascrell added language to the federal highway bill in 2005 authorizing $500,000 for a study on the role of public transportation in national security. The report focused on the ability of such systems to accommodate an evacuation from critical locations in times of emergency.

"I was proud to have directed this study and am very pleased with the comprehensive work produced by the committee," stated Rep. Pascrell, a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security. "Historically, the United States has built its highways with national defense in mind. Likewise we have invested in America's aviation system to withstand security threats. Now we must see to it that mass transportation is part of the planning process to move people safely in critical times and places, like out of New York City on 9/11, or out of harm's way before Hurricane Katrina."

After almost two years of diligent work, the National Academies' Transportation Research Board and a select committee led by Mr. Richard White, who formerly served as CEO of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Administration, completed the comprehensive report. While millions of people each day rely on transit, the study found that few urban area emergency plans have focused on its role in an emergency evacuation.

"For transit systems to be successful partners in an evacuation, they need to be part of the emergency management planning process and command structure; have real-time communications capability with local emergency managers, other transit providers, and their customers; and participate in annual exercises and drills," said Richard White, executive vice president, DMJM Harris, and chair of the committee that wrote the report. "To the extent transit agencies are asked to take on a major role in an evacuation, they should be considered essential personnel and be eligible with other first responders for cost reimbursement."

After reviewing 38 urban areas' emergency response and evacuation plans, the committee found that transit has a role to play in each of the four major elements that make up an emergency response plan -- mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Among the five case studies examined in the report is the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area. The report notes that NJT and PATH rail systems are "well integrated into emergency planning initiatives," but the area-wide regional evacuation plan needs further development. Redundancy of transit systems is an element deemed crucial by the report. New Jersey is undertaking an initiative to build a new passenger rail tunnel under the Hudson River which is cited as an important addition to the region.

"New Jersey Transit has done a commendable work planning for crises in my home area. TRANSCOM, the tri-state area's regional intelligent transportation management center, is given high marks for its work on integrating transit agencies. But the federal government must see to it that transit agencies nationwide reprioritize their capital programs to fill in any glaring gaps and ensure we can move people away from critical areas in an emergency. This report clearly adds more evidence to the case for the ARC Tunnel under the Hudson River, providing needed redundancy to the regional transportation system in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan region."

Recommendations within the report include:

* Ensure emergency manager's incorporate transit in local emergency evacuation plans
* Make transit a full partner, with interoperable communication systems
* Encourage transit agencies to be realistic in their capabilities in emergency planning
* Integrate the requirements of carless and special needs populations into evacuation planning
* Make eligible and fund evacuation-related capacity enhancement projects aimed at adding redundancy to critical transportation systems.

"I applaud the National Academies, Chairman White and his team for their diligent work. I plan to begin work on legislation to ensure that this study doesn't just get put on a shelf somewhere, but that DHS and DOT implement the key recommendations in this report," concluded Pascrell.

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