Sunday night's mock Metrorail catastrophe revealed shortcomings in the medical equipment, training and coordination of rescue teams, but most of the drill proceeded smoothly, according to Metro and emergency officials evaluating the elaborate exercise.
Many officials said it was too early to say whether the drill proved that emergency teams could cope with a real-life accident like the one simulated: a crowded train derailing and catching fire beneath the Potomac River.
Some volunteers who took part as injured passengers were highly critical of the operation. Volunteers who contacted a reporter gave accounts of medics failing to examine or treat some victims and of a disorganized and slow evacuation of the train.
"From our point of view, all our equipment worked just as it should," said Metro General Manager Richard S. Page. He said the drill had turned up some deficiencies in preparation, which he said officials would try to correct. Page would not say what the deficiencies were.
Safety experts will spend weeks evaluating the drill, which was among the most complex of its type ever staged in this country. About 1,000 volunteers and personel from Metro, fire and rescue units, 12 hospitals and other transit systems took part.
The drill began at 8 p.m. Sunday night, when a train carrying about 400 persons left Foggy Bottom for Rosslyn and stopped midway between the two stations to simulate a derailment, with the front car catching fire. The drill was designed to test reaction to a worst-case accident.
Riders moved toward the rear cars to escape from the flames and await the arrival of rescue units. Giant tunnel fans were turned on to suck simulated smoke forward, away from the people. Under the drill's assumptions, 10 of the 400 people aboard died, 190 were injured and 200 escaped without harm.
The drill was conducted as area governments are working to strengthen preparation for mass casualty accidents.
Their concern grows in part from shortcomings uncovered during the two diasters of Jan. 13: the crash of an Air Florida jet, which struck the 14th Street bridge and plunged into the Potomac River killing 78, and a Metro derailment between the Smithsonian and Federal Triangle stations, which killed three persons.
While none of the Metro deaths was blamed on rescuers' lack of preparation, many safety experts feel that a man sighted on the Potomac surface after the Air Florida crash might have survived if rescue units had been better equipped.
Among the problems found in Sunday's drill, according to several persons interviewed:
* There were not enough medical people to care for the 200 injured, who were taken to the Foggy Bottom and Rosslyn stations. Many of the medical personnel on hand had insufficient training in emergency work. As a result, some victims were treated improperly or not at all.
* Some medical equipment and supplies were in short supply. Rescuers were short of stretcher straps used to hold down the seriously injured as they were carried to rescue trains. Consequently, some volunteers playing these roles had to get up and walk to the trains.
* Rescue workers were at times at the wrong place for the work at hand. "At one point, we had a lot of victims on the platform and a lot of rescuers down at the incident site when all the victims were gone," said Battalion Chief McEldon Fleming, the D.C. Fire Department's liaison with Metro.
* At the crash scene, there was some confusion over who was in charge and what the plan called for. Arlington firefighters waiting to approach the crash site from Rosslyn said they felt they should have received more timely reports on what was happening in the tunnel.
Volunteers told specific stories of confusion. National Geographic employe Robert Henry, participating as a rider with minor burns, said he was put aboard a rescue train by one fireman and then ordered off it by a second, who said the car was reserved for observers.
Henry finally succeeded in boarding a train, he said, but when he got back to the Foggy Bottom station, no medic approached him or told him where to go.
He eventually grew dissatisifed and walked out of the station, he said. If the accident had been real, "I would have gone out and caught a cab and gone to a hospital by myself," he said.
Betsy Knight, an American Heart Association employe trained as a paramedic, took part in the drill as a passenger with a broken pelvis, massive internal bleeding and shock. Firefighters were slow in attending to people and "nobody ever did a complete survey on me, primary or secondary," she said. "I was never checked out" thoroughly.
Knight said she reached George Washington University Hospital two hours and 40 minutes after the accident. In that time, she said, a person actually suffering her mock injuries might have died from lack of treatment.
Officials acknowledged that there were problems with medical treatment and that the firefighters may have seemed lackadaisical to the victims. However, Patrick Hunt, the Arlington County chief fire marshal, said rescue workers are continually exposed to actual death and injury and, while learning from a drill, save hurrying for the real thing.
D.C. fire officials also rejected criticism voiced by some Metro officials on Sunday night that firefighters should have moved more quickly. The drill's purpose, they said, was to test plans and equipment, not to set a speed record.
Overall, safety officials said that the drill went off well. Control room technicians correctly turned off power in the third rail, rescue trains were moved in and out on schedule. Tunnel ventilation fans worked. Newly acquired telephones and radios functioned correctly.
Pending further evaluation, officials generally declined to discuss the drill's implications for Metro's basic safety philosophy: that riders should remain inside a disabled train until rescuers arrive, even in the event of a fire.
To ensure that people do not leave the trains on their own, Metro deliberately has put no instructions in its cars on how to open the doors. Metro maintains that passengers will generally be safer inside a car than outside on their own, where they might touch the 750-volt third rail or be hit by a passing train.
But many safety specialists, including the National Transportation Safety Board and D.C. Fire Department officials, call this approach fundamentally flawed and say passengers should be able to get out in extreme situations.
General Manager Page said that part of Metro's drill evaluation would be to look at "our own evacuation policy and our own assumptions about how to deal with an emergency that's that serious." Metro's in-house report on the Jan. 13 accident already has recommended posting instructions on how to open the doors.