An Exploratory Analysis of Emergency Preparedness for Regional Transit Centers

Marcia Raines


This thesis evaluates emergencies that are likely to occur in metropolitan transportation centers and the challenges emergency managers face when preparing for them. With infrastructure and people concentrated in one area, an emergency event—such as an earthquake or terrorist attack—can be devastating. Specifically, this thesis argues that all the transportation facilities that operate in a concentrated area must coordinate and act as a joint facility for emergency preparedness purposes. Doing so will reduce inherent risk to the agencies and the surrounding region. Currently, agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area coordinate on some level, but if they strengthen collaboration efforts they can provide better protection to both human and infrastructure resources across the region.

Transportation has repeatedly been the target of manmade and terrorist threats.[1] The Critical Infrastructures Protection Act of 2001 defines critical infrastructure as “systems and assets … so vital to the United States that the incapacity or destruction of such systems and assets would have a debilitating impact on security [and] national economic security.”[2] Further, the Patriot Act identifies the transportation sector as one of sixteen key sectors of critical infrastructure.[3] In 2003, Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5 addressed the need to enhance critical infrastructure resiliency through coordinated and collaborative efforts at various levels of operations in order to strengthen security and resilience.[4] Some related work has been done at the public safety level, but more work is needed at the administrative and operations level to ensure that transportation agencies are providing a safe environment for the surrounding agencies and communities. With the San Francisco Bay Area as its main example, this thesis recommends enhancing emergency preparedness by improving coordination and collaboration between agencies that work in close proximity to each other. Doing so will enhance emergency preparedness and reduce inherent risk to the agencies and the surrounding region.

Millions of transportation system customers and tons of cargo routinely pass through a particular regional transportation center in the Bay Area. Operations must run smoothly and uninterrupted at all times. Nine agencies operate a variety of modes of transportation, serving a wide range of customers—from international travelers, to local commuters, to cargo. Several of the Bay Area transportation agencies examined in this thesis already work together in some fashion, but they do not fully coordinate emergency preparedness activities. Each agency has a distinct governing board, finance requirements, and regulatory standards that govern their operations, and varying levels of government oversee these agencies. During emergencies, many of these agencies need resources that are housed outside the immediate area; some are located a great distance away and are potentially not accessible in emergency conditions. The agencies, their passengers, and the community will benefit from advance collaborative planning that will help allocate critical resources during an emergency.

To evaluate overall emergency preparedness, this thesis reviews existing open-source emergency documents from nine Bay Area transportation agencies, as well as best practices used to protect transit infrastructure both in other U.S. cities and internationally. Based on best practices, the thesis offers recommendations the Bay Area agencies can implement to enhance the regional transportation system’s emergency preparedness. The recommendations fall into six categories: 1) adopting an all-hazards approach to emergency planning, 2) establishing single channels of communication, 3) approaching emergency preparedness as a “whole community” effort, 4) coordinating resource allocation, 5) establishing continuity of operations over extended periods of time, and 6) hardening infrastructure.

Ultimately, this thesis argues that in order to optimally prepare for emergencies, multiple co-located agencies must move beyond their independent authorities and establish enhanced collaboration and coordination on a system-wide scale. The recommendations suggest mechanisms that can improve operational protocols used to protect the agencies, their employees, nearby residents, and commuters. It is also recommended that the Bay Area agencies establish a year-long pilot program to implement a regional transportation–oriented emergency operations center to evaluate the benefits of this collaborative approach. This proof-of-concept effort will give the various agencies much-needed time to develop methods for working more closely in emergency scenarios. These efforts will also likely lead to longer-term solutions, will help the agencies establish resource-sharing agreements, and will allow them to form a regional transportation emergency operations center (RTEOC).




[1] Yuko Nakanishi et al., “Assessing Emergency Preparedness of Transit Agencies,” Transportation Research Record 1822 (January 2003): 24–32,

[2] White House, Presidential Policy Directive—Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience, PPD-21 (Washington, DC: White House, 2013),

[3] USA Patriot Act, United States Public Law 107–56, U.S. Statutes at Large 115 (2001),

[4] Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Management of Domestic Incidents, Homeland Security Presidential Directive-5 (Washington, DC: DHS, 2003).

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