The New York City Transit Department of Subway's Emergency Response Officer Program: Making It Strong In Transition and Beyond
MTA/OIG # 2009-14
Following years of complaints by first responders about poor responsiveness by NYC Transit to emergency situations in the subway, NYC Transit created the Rapid Transit Emergency Response Unit. One year later, in March 2009, NYC Transit eliminated this unit and returned, in modified form, to the rotating emergency response model that existed before the unit’s formation.
In an article published thereafter by the New York Times, the then-president of NYC Transit explained that eliminating the unit was part of an effort to reorganize subway management and cut costs, and had not affected safety. According to the article, he acknowledged that “In hindsight, the thing to do would have been to keep the unit in place as it was” until the reorganization was complete. Following publication of the article and based on the disturbing issues it raised, the OIG conducted a review of the current state of readiness of NYC Transit’s emergency response function.
In our report, we presented operational concerns regarding how, at the time, the emergency response function would be folded into the Department of Subways proposed Line Group Management organizational structure (which groups management responsibility by related subways lines, e.g. the IRT West group includes lines “1” “2” “3” and “7,” thereby decentralizing functions like emergency response).
Without a well-integrated program, NYC Transit risks a return to problems that plagued its response system in the past, namely poor response times, inadequately trained and equipped responders, and responders not properly performing their roles and fulfilling their responsibilities as Emergency Response Officers (EROs).
Further, without adequate planning for emergency operations within the newly reorganized structure of Subways, there is a risk that coordination and communication between the EROs and senior management will break down during incidents that occur before NYC Transit develops and implements appropriate policies and procedures.
Specifically, we found that:
- Four out of five Group General Managers we interviewed do not appear to be entirely clear and consistent on all aspects of the ERO function
- The applicable Policy Instruction and Bulletin are silent on what training is required of EROs and management is unclear how it will insure that all EROs receive this training.
- NYC Transit has not established a clear protocol for the five EROs of the line group structure as to reporting for duty at the beginning of their shifts.
- With the reorganization, communication channels will change and it is unclear how this change will affect the role of the ERO.
- With a total of five EROs instead of one on each shift, NYC Transit has not defined how responses will be coordinated between the EROs to insure the most effective emergency response.
- NYC Transit is missing an opportunity to strengthen its ERO program by not retaining valuable and still-applicable parts of the old dedicated ERO unit’s operational directive.
- It is unclear how NYC Transit will reconcile ERO equipment requirements outlined in the Policy Instruction and Bulletin, with the limited amount of equipment currently available.