PoP-Ed. by ANC Rep Denise Krepp – WMATA: Safety Hazards and Security Risks “Shocking gaps were exposed and I left the event with little confidence in WMATA’s ability to fix them”

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WMATA: Safety Hazards and Security Risks

Last Sunday, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority hosted a safety exercise at the Stadium Armory metro stop. For three hours, firefighters and WMATA officials tested their communication and evacuation protocols. Shocking gaps were exposed and I left the event with little confidence in WMATA’s ability to fix them.

I’m the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for residents living next to the Stadium Armory stop and I was invited to participate in the exercise because of my ANC position. My participation that day was limited to standing around and taking pictures. I had asked WMATA to include neighbors in the exercise but my request was denied.

After WMATA denied my request, I reminded them of the sarin attack in Tokyo 20 years ago and the more recent attacks in London and Madrid. In a real world attack happens at Stadium Armory, how is WMATA going to communicate with neighbors? No response.

Instead, WMATA hosted a controlled safety exercise and this exercise demonstrated how WMATA staff fail even in a controlled environment. One of the participants in the Sunday exercise was in a wheel chair. Her wheel chair was too large to fit through the doors that are located between each car. WMATA’s solution was to put her in a smaller wheel chair. Slight problem. The lady couldn’t fit in the smaller wheel chair. WMATA’s solution was to put the lady and her large wheelchair in the front car. That made it easier for the firefighters to reach her and carry her out.


Good solution for Sunday but individuals in wheelchairs won’t always be in the front car as I learned two years ago when my daughter and I had to be evacuated from a metro train stuck in the tunnel between L’Enfant Plaza and Federal Center SW. We were in the last car with an individual who was seated in a large wheelchair. The conductor told us to walk towards the front of the train. The wheelchair individual couldn’t maneuver his chair between the bars in the car and his chair was too wide to fit through the side doors. He had to wait for the train to be fixed before he could exit it.

WMATA’s willingness to simplify the Sunday exercise instead of making it more attuned with real world facts shocked me and I shared my frustrations with friends on Facebook. A friend of mine has an autistic child and she wanted to know how WMATA and firefighters would evacuate him. What happens if he has a panic attack during the evacuation? I couldn’t answer her questions and based on what I saw Sunday, I’m not confident that WMATA would know what to do.

Sunday wasn’t the first time that an individual with special needs rode the metro system. Individuals who are deaf, blind, or disabled have been riding the system for years and the fact that WMATA and first responders are only now practicing how to evacuate them is shocking. WMATA officials told me on Sunday that they were practicing evacuation protocols because of what happened on January 12th at L’Enfant Plaza. Why didn’t they do this sooner? And based on what I saw on Sunday, why should I trust WMATA to take the proper steps to address the problem?

K. Denise Rucker Krepp
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, former Obama Administration political appointee, and former Senior Counsel for the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee

18 Comment

  • First, why the resume in the signature line? Because, DC, I suppose.
    Second, this is terrifying information.

    • If Denise’s signature is the first thing that stands out with this information, then you need to reassess your priorities. Denise lives two blocks away and has been an exemplary ANC rep for our neighborhood. If anything, her signature shows that she has firsthand experience with Homeland Security which gives her a unique insight into what WMATA needs to accomplish in order demonstrate to its riders that it can handle an emergency crisis.

      Thank you, Denise, for the update. I have confidence that you will continue to monitor the results of the safety exercise and what WMATA will be doing (if anything) to remedy the gaps you identified. The neighborhood appreciates all the hard work you’re doing for this community.

    • It does give her some credibility on writing about public safety issues.

      • Yes, her pointing out that she was formerly an “Obama Administration political appointee” really burnishes her credentials. Please.

        • Then perhaps you would have preferred her to elaborate on those credentials…

          She is a former Chief Council for MARAD and a former Chief Counsel to the House Committee on Homeland Security. She was part of the team that created the Department of Homeland Security and TSA. She is an expert in Homeland Security policy and knows a thing or two about emergency response and management.

          So her experience is certainly relevant to the topic at hand, and she showed significant restraint in that brief bio line.

          • I think it would have been better for her to have either provided the details, or left “Obama administration political appointee” out altogether.
            At a job a couple of years ago, I worked with a mix of political appointees and regular federal employees. Some of the political appointees were high-level, but others were extremely low-level. So “political appointee” by itself doesn’t necessarily mean much, IME/IMO.

  • I live near Denise’s district and appreciate how vocal she’s been in trying to put pressure on the police and others to help our neighborhood. But god, that signature line bugs the crap out of me! Next time, just sign it ANC commissioner, PLEASE.

  • I’m curious about the other aspects of this exercise, aside from the issue of disabled passengers. For example, how well did the lines of communication hold up between first responders, station managers, and Metro’s central control board? Did passengers get clear messages about the situation, especially considering how unintelligible some cars’ speakers are?

    Also, did anything spontaneously catch on fire?

  • Real talk: WMATA is incompetent and it’s amazong they have only killed 10 or so people in the last fews years. I am worried that we are going to see a massive accident before anything is actually done. It is such a colossal embarrassment that the capital city of the richest country in human history has a third-world and dangerous train system that falls far short of what exists in nearly every other country in the world.

    • I visited Japan last year and was absolutely shocked at how much better their rail systems are than ours. It’s not a slight difference, it’s several orders of magnitude. Prior to that trip I’d visited various European countries and been suitably impressed by their rail systems, but nothing prepared me for Japan. Really eye-opening to see what’s possible. Anyone involved in transportation policy or management in the US should be required to spend a month in Japan doing a scavenger hunt designed to get them moving around the country on various permutations of trolleys, trams, cable cars, shinkansen, subways, cog railways, trains run by department stores, maglev trains, monorails, excursion trains, etc etc etc.
      They really need to experience it themselves to really understand what reliable, safe, comprehensive train services can be and how it changes the way you think about getting around the country. The average delay on the high speed train system is less than 60 seconds! Think about that. You need to get on the 12:48 Shinkanesen between Tokyo and Kyoto? Arrive at the station at 12:40, walk on board, and you can literally set your clock by the moment it leaves. It’s 99% likely to arrive on time.
      In terms of safety – there has literally never been a fatality on the Japanese high speed trains caused by an accident or crash. NEVER. In 50 years. The idea that the Metro tracks were operated for a month “out of gauge” would shock and horrify a third-tier department store train operator in Japan, much less someone involved in running rail service in, say, Kyoto. You’d literally have resignations up and down the chain of command.
      I’m not saying Japanese bureacracy is perfect – the way TEPCO handled the situation with the reactor at Fukushima is a good example of where they fall short. But in terms of building, maintaining, and managing transportation, they are absolutely top notch. We should be studying them closely.
      The idea that we aren’t able to do things like build two more tunnels between NY and NJ to complement the existing tunnels BUILT OVER 100 YEARS AGO or dig another tunnel under the Potomac is seriously tragic. Its depressing to contemplate how impossible this seems to be to remedy. Every discussion of public transportation devolves into jurisdictional fingerpointing and concern about how public transportation needs to be “subsidized” (as though the interstate highway system or the DC street grid built and maintained themselves for free). Sigh.

  • Metro management is incompetent in oh so many ways. This report doesn’t surprise me in the least. Sadly, none of our “leaders” seem to care enough to actually do something about it (including our Mayor, who was ON THE WMATA BOARD). So, the system will continue to limp along until more people are killed, then there will be another outpouring of shock for a few days, then back to SOP. Really sad for a city that has improved in most other ways over the last 10 years.

  • dcgator

    What if there were some kind of Metro sit-in? Some kind of demonstration AT each metro? I will admit, I’m not as well-versed in how much it sucks because I don’t rely on it often enough, but I follow enough Twitter accounts/see the reports here and in the news to know. If this could become some kind of major news story (e.g. CNN around-the-clock coverage), WMATA may be forced to act in a bigger way.

  • Well, Ms. Krepp certainly has a key bit of experience that, as I remember reading it, most of the Metro Board members do not – she actually uses the system.

  • Is there any way to fix the dysfunction at WMATA? Clean house by making everyone reapply for their jobs, maybe?

  • From the e-mail I see things that need changing, but I’m not seeing the “shocking gaps”. Do most transportation system rescue teams have a plan for those with autism? What was it that she saw on Sunday that left her doubting that WMATA would take the proper steps? The only specific in her story is that they had trouble evacuating an obese person in a wheelchair and based on the specifics, I’m not sure what the better plan was- it seems that it would require major changes to the cars themselves, not the evacuation plan.

    • “The only specific in her story is that they had trouble evacuating an obese person in a wheelchair and based on the specifics, I’m not sure what the better plan was- it seems that it would require major changes to the cars themselves, not the evacuation plan.”
      In the real world, they could well have a passenger with a too-large wheelchair in a car other than the front car. Seems like they should’ve figured out a way to carry the passenger from whatever car she was in to the front of the train — that’s what they’d have to do in real life.

  • I’m glad Ms. Rucker Krepp wrote this article regarding passengers with disabilities. It’s often been an overlooked and forgotten group. You don’t find Washington Post ever do articles like this.WMATA has always put disability-related issues on bottom of the list and last transit to improve or add accessible features. But it’s not always the WMATA management — it’s the Board too. We need extreme makeover of both WMATA Board and management. Thank you Ms. Rucker Krepp for doing this article.

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