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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