A passenger train derails in an urban community. Whether caused by intentional or unintentional factors, this incident would have consequences that go well beyond the rail company and the passengers traveling in these fated rail cars. Surrounding companies and communities would be affected, hazardous materials may be a threat, critical infrastructure beyond transportation could be impacted, cyber and physical security could be at risk, and so on. Mitigating these risks, threats, and vulnerabilities requires education, tools, and a desire to play a key role in disaster preparedness and response.
Rail incidents could affect all local stakeholders, so bringing them to the table to discuss potential threats as well as the roles and responsibilities that each stakeholder plays is critical. It all begins with education. For example, college students must decide which educational tracks they would like to follow based on the future jobs they would like to secure. Although similar, one or two words in a professional title could make a big difference when preparing for or responding to a disaster – for example, environmental health versus public health professions; or Master’s of Public Administration (MPA) versus Master’s of Business Administration (MBA). Lessons learned from previous incidents could provide critical information for decision makers, such as arguments for investing in more resilient plans, procedures, and structures.
Once they understand the various roles and define their own functions and responsibilities as they relate to risks and threats, stakeholders need to know which tools would be most effective for performing their tasks. For example, hazardous materials teams are not the sole responders for a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high-yield explosive (CBRNE) event. They must coordinate and cooperate across disciplines to provide the most effective response and reduce the number of people exposed to toxins and other deadly agents.
In today’s ever-changing threat environment, a whole community approach is the only effective approach. A rail incident is not just a rail and passenger problem, it also affects the lives, health, and productivity of all those in the local community, the surrounding communities, and the numerous communities connected physically, virtually, or emotionally with the impacted site. In a truly resilient community, stakeholders would strive to educate and equip themselves to prevent and, when needed, respond to disasters. As with links in a chain, each stakeholder must play his or her part while connecting with other agencies and organizations in order to complete the whole community resilience “chain.”