Provide a single message to the public to assure consistency and to correct inaccurate crisis information.
Transportation agencies share their experiences in coordinating with the media during and after a catastrophic event – in this case, September 11, 2001, in the National Capital Region.
Made Public Date
04/13/2006

69

Washington
District of Columbia
United States

143

Fairfax County
Virginia
United States

144

Montgomery County
Maryland
United States
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Identifier
2006-00217

Effects of Catastrophic Events on Transportation System Management and Operations: The Pentagon and the National Capitol Region - September 11, 2001

Background

In March 2002, a report titled "Effects of Catastrophic Events on Transportation System Management and Operations, the Pentagon and the National Capital Region, September 11, 2001 Findings" documented the actions taken by transportation agencies in response to the terrorist attack on the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia (VA) on September 11, 2001. The report described the impacts of catastrophic events on the transportation system facilities and services. The findings were a result of the creation of a detailed chronology of events in the National Capital Region (NCR), a literature search, and interviews of key personnel involved in transportation operations decision-making following the attack.

The September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the Pentagon resulted in substantial, immediate, and adverse impacts on transportation, and influenced the longer-term operation of transportation facilities and services in the region. The crisis revealed important information about the response of the transportation system to a major crisis and the ability of the transportation operating agencies, along with their public safety and emergency management partners, to respond effectively to the crisis. The report emphasized the transportation aspects of this catastrophic event and lessons learned that could be incorporated into future emergency response planning.

Lessons Learned

When responding to a crisis, accurate information is essential to ensure that rumors and inaccurate information do not contribute to public confusion and hamper the management of the emergency response. Agencies' media liaison officers should coordinate their messages, establish media contacts, and provide a single message to the public.

The report, "Effects of Catastrophic Events on Transportation System Management and Operations, the Pentagon and the National Capital Region, September 11, 2001 Findings" asserts, "…media contacts should be established and a single message should be agreed upon by operating agencies with respect to the overall response to a crisis. The term used in the Capital Region is "many voices, one message;" media liaison officers should coordinate to assure consistency and to make certain that inaccurate information is squelched as quickly as possible."

The following are three related suggestions based on the experiences of transportation authorities immediately following the events on September 11, 2001.

  • Dispel rumors and erroneous reports about the transportation facilities and services to relieve congestion. During the attack on September 11, 2001, inaccurate information, erroneous reports, and rumors about the transportation system status were a significant problem for many jurisdictions and had to be verified or discounted. For example, in Virginia, bridges and roadways had to be closed and inspected when rumors of bombs surfaced. Rumors also circulated that the Metrorail service had been shut down, when in fact only the Pentagon and National Airport stations had been closed. This rumor added to the street-level congestion as many people avoided the subways and used the streets to walk home.
  • Broadcast reliable information to avoid diverting the attention of regional public safety agencies. In Maryland, reliable information was a problem as media reports sometimes disseminated information which turned out to be incorrect. For example, incorrect reports included: an airplane crash at Camp David in Frederick County, Maryland and terrorist threats against eleven sites in Maryland, including the State House, Baltimore's World Trade Center, and the Naval Academy. The incorrect information diverted the attention of the Maryland State Police and other police authorities and caused severe traffic congestion in the Baltimore metropolitan region as various transportation facilities were closed or severely restricted in their availability.
  • Provide accurate traveler information to guide travelers. Whereas inaccurate information can cause additional problems, accurate traveler information is a highly valued and effective tool for providing guidance to travelers. Around the White House, street closings to expand a safety perimeter added to the traffic problems in the downtown area. However, to assist drivers, portable VMS signs and traffic cones were used to redirect traffic away from street closings. State and local web sites that provided traveler information for the Capital region were also heavily used after the Pentagon attack. Inspection of the number of “hits” at the Montgomery County, Maryland traveler information site during the first three weeks of September 2001 show a substantial increase for information about street closings, the status of transit service, and travel advisories.

The experiences of transportation authorities in the National Capital Region, following the events on September 11, 2001, have shown how inaccurate, misleading information and rumors can contribute to the problems and confusion after a catastrophic event. Erroneous reports about the closure of transportation facilities and services could lead to increased congestion, reducing transportation efficiency and mobility significantly in the region. Every effort should be made to provide accurate traveler information to reduce public confusion and assist in the management of the crisis.

Effects of Catastrophic Events on Transportation System Management and Operations: The Pentagon and the National Capitol Region - September 11, 2001

Effects of Catastrophic Events on Transportation System Management and Operations: The Pentagon and the National Capitol Region - September 11, 2001
Publication Sort Date
03/01/2002
Author
Mark R. Carter, et. al.
Publisher
Prepared by SAIC for the FHWA USDOT

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