Metro will begin training a select group of commuters this month in ways to evacuate trains and subway tunnels and help fellow passengers during a terrorist attack or rail disaster.
Transit officials have developed a highly unusual program that will include walking the volunteer passengers into dark subway tunnels to teach them to navigate live tracks as trains roll by.
The transit system, considered by federal law enforcement to be a prime Washington target for terrorists, said the effort was another step in a campaign to prepare Metro's 1.1 million daily rail and bus riders for catastrophe.
"You should be able to be responsible for yourself in an emergency," Metro Transit Police Chief Polly L. Hanson said yesterday. "The fact is, there may not be enough first responders, or they might not be able to get to you right away. . . . We're trying to help our customers help each other."
Hanson said protection against terrorism isn't the only motivation for the training, which she said would be useful during natural disasters or fires that require passengers to evacuate a subway train or bus. But she made it clear that threats of violence underscore the program.
"I've worked for Metro for 23 years, and I recognize how vulnerable we are," she said. "Explosives are still the number one choice of terrorists, and they go where the numbers are -- often, that's a transit environment."
Hanson said subway tunnels pose particular hazards during an emergency and require specialized training. "When you walk down the street, you don't have a third rail that's got 750 volts," she said, referring to the high-voltage rail that powers the trains and runs parallel to the two running rails that carry the rail cars. Recognizing the third rail, which has a white safety cover, and staying away from it are the most important lessons for anyone in a rail tunnel.
The American Public Transportation Association believes the Metro training program is the only one of its kind in the country. The training initially will be limited to Metro riders who are members of community emergency response teams, a program funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The teams, which exist in Alexandria and the District, and in Arlington, Montgomery, Fairfax and Prince William counties, consist of hundreds of community volunteers who have received 20 hours of emergency training so they can help fire and rescue workers in a disaster.
Members of the community emergency response teams were given backpacks, or "go-bags," that include a yellow Day-Glo safety vest, a green hard hat, safety goggles, gloves, a medical mask, flashlight, duct tape and other supplies. The members will be expected to keep those backpacks within easy reach in case of a Metro emergency, Transit Police Capt. Jeff Delinsky said.
After Metro completes the training of the community emergency response teams, it plans to expand the training to regular riders, Delinsky said. He said it probably would be next year before that happens. "We know there's a demand for the public to be involved," he said.
Meantime, Metro has posted an animated guide to evacuating trains, subway tunnels, stations and buses on its Web site at www.wmata.com/riding/safety/evac.cfm. The agency also has produced a CD-ROM with the animated guide.
Transit officials are holding lunchtime "open houses" at their busiest stations to answer questions about emergency preparedness and to hand out brochures. The open houses will be 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on these dates at these stations: Tuesday at L'Enfant Plaza; Sept. 9 at Metro Center; Sept. 14 at Union Station; Sept. 16 at Gallery Place-Chinatown; Sept. 21 at Pentagon; Sept. 23 at Reagan National Airport; Sept. 28 at Smithsonian; and Sept. 30 at Capitol South.