Volunteers could help lead passengers to safety, ventilate tunnels and perform other tasks in an act of terrorism or other emergency involving a Metro train.
“We’re talking about hurricanes and floods and other natural disasters, that’s what this is really about. It’s not just about terrorism,” Chief Polly Hanson of the Metro Transit Police Department said yesterday.
Beginning this month, transit police hope to train at least 15 persons each month for the new Metro Citizen Corps. The initial groups will be drawn from Citizen Emergency Response Teams (CERT) already organized in the District, suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia.
The volunteers will receive six hours of training on tunnel evacuations and learn how to test the 750-volt third rail to determine whether it is electrified. They also will learn about safety routes and other aspects of the subway system that could prove useful in emergency conditions.
“We’re trying to provide information to folks that would allow them to be comfortable in our environment and to assist first responders and our own operational personnel,” Chief Hanson said. The volunteers also will receive three hours of training designed to help them recognize suspected criminal or terrorist activity.
Participants will get backpacks containing a plastic hard hat, fluorescent safety vest, flashlight, escape mask and first-aid supplies. Transit officials concede that it is unlikely they will carry their equipment with them during routine commutes but said the training will be among their most valuable assets, because they will be able to identify themselves and step into leadership roles if the need arises.
The concept was welcomed by many downtown workers, particularly federal employees who have grown accustomed to having designated safety coordinators in their offices since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Plans call for corps members to be notified by telephone, pager or e-mail when an incident occurs. Members of each operating unit would mobilize at a specified location before joining a coordinated response.
“There may not be enough first responders or they may not be able to get to you immediately,” Chief Hanson said.
Officials hope to have at least 150 volunteers trained for the program within a year. Eventually it could be opened to members of the public who do not participate in community CERT programs.
“It’s an excellent idea, but I wish they could be on every train; I’d like to see a lot more than 150,” said Lisa Conley, 39, of Capitol Heights.