A task force of Washington-area and federal officials yesterday began studying whether their rescue efforts were adequate on Jan. 13 when an Air Florida jetliner crashed into the Potomac River during a swirling snowstorm and a Metro subway train derailed about 40 minutes later.

In convening the task force, D.C. Police Chief Maurice T. Turner Jr. said, "I think we did a Herculean job considering the weather and everything." But nonetheless he said there is "an awful lot of room for improvement when we respond" to disasters.

A total of 78 people were killed in the plane crash--74 passengers and crew members and four people in cars on the 14th Street bridge--while three Metro passengers were killed and at least 25 others injured in the subway crash.

Many Washington-area residents have lauded the rescue efforts. But others have criticized the fact that Park Police tried to rescue the Air Florida passengers from the icy river by dropping lifelines to them from a helicopter instead of sending rescue workers in rafts to pull them out of the water. Some Metro passengers trapped in the subway wreck have also complained about the length of time it took to rescue them.

Turner said the combination of the crashes with the snowstorm two weeks ago "points out very vividly the need to have a plan for disasters such as this."

Assistant D.C. Police Chief Marty M. Tapscott, who heads the 20-member panel, said that various existing agreements among jurisdictions for assisting each other during emergencies will be reviewed to see how they can be improved. He said yesterday's meeting was largely organizational; he said he hopes to have a report finished within six weeks.

Among the panel's members are Arlington Police Chief William K. Stover, D.C. Fire Chief Norman Richardson, Prince George's County Police Chief John McHale, D.C. Transportation Director Thomas Downs, Gen. Ernest Morgan of the D.C. National Guard and U.S. Park Police Chief Lynn Herring.