People doing their own thing makes managing emergencies very hard
I don't know if you've seen movies like Contagion (or some movie, I can't seem to figure out the title, featuring Jeremy Sisto and a biological weapons attack in Greater Los Angeles) where things descend into chaos and disorder as a result of a mass contagion and the long period of time required to wrest the disease under control.
The thing is people do what they want, regardless of what they are told to do by experts. (This was a problem with the earthquake a couple summers ago that struck the DC region. People were told--if their workplace safety officers had the right training--to stay in place, stay inside. Many people did not, went outside, left for home, left work to check on their children, etc.)
And experts, often, keep people out of the loop in terms of information, so people often do their own thing, right or wrong, regardless of what they are told because there is little trust. (This is a big problem with WMATA, which has a lot of incidents--people committing suicide etc.--and doesn't provide enough information for people to divert off the system quickly enough.)
They also react the way they do because they panic and act out of a sense of trying to create control, even if the choices they make are ill-considered and/or "wrong."
I think that's partly what happened with regard to the debacle of some subway train failures in Anacostia a few weeks ago. See "Metro: Miscommunication complicated Green Line chaos last month" from the Post.
First, clearly WMATA doesn't have its incident and emergency management protocols and responses down, and the Metro Transit Police need to up their game and training in this regard especially, since it was a (well-meaning but mistaken) MTP officer who triggered the system shutdown and then didn't handle proper reporting of the action, which slowed down the broader agency's emergency response.
Second, passengers did their own thing--getting out of the cars and evacuating on their own--this prevented WMATA from turning the electric power back on and delaying for more than one hour the restart of the system in that area, because WMATA had no idea whether everyone was off the tracks.
(Something similar also happened last summer in another incident on the Green Line in Prince George's County, see "Rebellion on the Green Line: Passengers flee stalled Metro train" and "Metro to revise evacuation procedures and extreme weather guidelines" from the Post.)
In emergencies, plan for chaos, not order.
Labels: emergency management planning