Edited Version of May 17, 2000 Transcript
EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation

"Transportation Resources in Disasters:
The Role of the Office of Emergency Transportation"

Janet Benini
Deputy Director
US DOT Office of Emergency Transportation

Moderator: Avagene Moore
EIIP Coordinator

The original unedited transcript of the May 17, 2000 online Virtual Forum presentation is available on the EIIP Virtual Forum (http://www.emforum.org). The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each were deleted but content of discussions, questions, and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers from the speakers to questions by the audience are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! We are delighted to have everyone here today. I am the Moderator for the May 17 session -- just a couple of things before introducing our guest speaker.

If there are any URLs used in today's proceedings, they are live links that you can pull up in your browser window by clicking on them. The live links are in blue. For example, today's background page is <http://www.emforum.org/vforum/000517.htm>. You can look at that now or later to find out more about our speaker and the DOT Office of Emergency Transportation. If your chat window disappears, just pull it back up by clicking on the EIIP bar at the bottom of your desktop screen.

URLs used will be in the transcript of today's session. The transcript will be available from the Virtual Library Archives as soon as possible. The edited version will be available for download by the first of next week.

We ask that you please do not send Direct (private) Messages to our Speaker or Moderator during the formal session. It is very distracting and hinders the flow of the discussion.


Janet Benini has been the Deputy Director of the Office of Emergency Transportation (OET) at the US Department of Transportation since November 1998. The OET manages the departmental emergency preparedness and response programs including national security and domestic crises.

The Office is also responsible for the integration of interagency programs both within and outside the DOT, and management of Emergency Support Function (ESF) #1: Transportation, for the Federal Response Plan. Please see Web page for the OET at <http://www.rspa.dot.gov/oet/index.html>.

Janet led the DOT effort on Y2K activation, for which she received the Eagle Award by Administrator Kelley Coyner. She serves on advisory boards for the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) and the Natural Hazards Research Center. She is a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM), and was on the CEM Commission for the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM).

Prior to joining DOT, Janet worked in emergency management for 21 years with the State of California. Serving as Chief of Program Development for the California Specialized Training Institute, she oversaw training programs and seminars for government and business professionals. As you can see, our speaker today has an extensive background in emergency management. Please see her bio in the background page referenced earlier.

After Janet presents her formal remarks, I will remind you of the protocol for asking questions and making comments during the Q&A portion of our program today.

Please help me welcome Janet Benini to the Forum. Janet, thank you for being here today. I turn the floor to you now, Janet!


Janet Benini: Thanks, Avagene! For some reason I am more frightened now than giving a speech!

Let's see: Emergency transportation --- those are the guys who put out the cones when an evacuation is under way, right? Don't feel bad --- that's what I thought, too. After 20 some years as a disaster manager in California, I came to DOT a year and a half ago, and am having the time of my life as this department gears up for the 21st century.

DOT includes the FAA, US Coast Guard, Federal Highway Administration, rail, maritime, transit, and others --- in all, eleven different "modes". Our small office (current staff, eight people) coordinates all the disaster activities for the department. It's great fun because we get to work with everybody.

Y2K was quite a challenge, because we had to be able to communicate to the public the status of national transportation systems, in real time. While the FAA owns the National Airspace System, most of transportation is private, so we had to develop new relationships with companies that we regulate. It was quite a challenge, but it worked, and both the government and industry feel it's beneficial. Now we are trying to build on that base, so we can provide better information anytime in a disaster.

The Federal Highway Administration is ramping up for an initiative called "Intelligent Transportation Systems." This is funded at $200 million per year for the next 10 years! One of their priorities is to make sure that any system developed contributes to the jurisdiction's disaster capabilities. We are working now with the southeastern states (hurricane country) to see if we can improve inter-state evacuations. We are sponsoring a workshop on this topic June 26 - 28.

We also developed a new software system for Y2K, because we had over 100,000 data elements we were tracking, and obviously couldn't do that over phone and faxes. So, we had E-Team customize their application for us. It's web-based and did a great job. I'd be happy to discuss this further, if you are interested.

We recently leased a new COOP site, and are actively bringing it into reality. Y2K helped us here, too, as we used the Business Continuity Contingency Plans as the basis for our revised COOP plan.

We also manage ESF-1 of the Federal Response Plan, which means we are responsible for getting all federal resources to the disaster mobilization center. Of course, this is during disaster conditions! There have been problems with this, including different federal agencies bidding against each other for limited airframes, etc., thereby running up the cost to the taxpayers. We just (last week) completed a national contract (with Landstar, inc.) to provide all federal transportation.

Although there are a few kinks to work out (especially regarding ice and water transportation) we feel this will be a big breakthrough, both in service to state and local government, and in cost savings to the feds.

We participate in and conduct exercises regularly, including 17 Y2K exercises, three of which were for our sub-cabinet level appointees (Jane Garvey of the FAA, for example). It was the first time exercises had been done at this level, and they loved it! We are actively involved in TOPOFF, which some of you may be familiar with. Worldwide, 40% of terrorist incidents are directed against transportation targets, so it's important we are vigilant.

We have had a role in NATO for years, supporting its military and humanitarian missions. In the last year and a half, DOT has ventured further into the international arena, too. We have three projects underway in Central America, to help reconstruct after Hurricane Mitch, including one to develop a prototype transportation mutual aid system. We have provided technical assistance to some African countries following their floods, and work regularly with Canada.

Avagene mentioned in my bio that I'm a CEM, and was on the CEM commission for its first six years. Yesterday, I participated in a Steering Committee meeting for NEMA's new Emergency Management Accreditation Program, where they will "accredit" states and local jurisdictions.

Those are my areas of interest and expertise. Perhaps someone has a question or comment, to start the discussion?

[Audience Questions / Comments]

Avagene Moore: Thank you Janet. As a reminder of our protocol, please input a question mark (?) if you wish to speak. Compose your question or comment and hold until you are recognized. Then hit Send or Enter to submit your remarks. We will take questions in order of request to speak. Please help us keep order by following this protocol. We are ready for the first question for Janet. We will take questions in order of request to speak. Please help us keep order by following this protocol. We are ready for the first question for Janet.


Russell Coile: What role will your office or DOT play in the development of GDIN?

Janet Benini: Hello, Russell! Good to "see" you! I'm not sure what role we'll have in GDIN. We're working through Federal Highways to develop a national grid of traffic, weather, and road condition information that will eventually hopefully also be able to monitor chemical or biological releases, too. I assume that would fit in with GDIN, But we don't have anything formal yet.


Cam King: Janet - could you expand a little on the programme re: highway evacuations? That seems to be a big problem in places like Florida.

Janet Benini: Yes, it's a huge problem. With Hurricane Floyd, we did something that's very unusual and that's reversing the lanes on the freeways, so they all flowed out. This was good in some ways, and bad in others. We need to leave a way for emergency vehicles to get in. Also, the road signs, reflectors, etc. only go one way and the ramps are cantilevered to keep cars on, when you reverse the flow, it pushes cars off! In addition, when multiple states evacuate, we sometimes have the situation, which happened in Hurricane Floyd where one state evacuates into another, which then goes into the third, and unfortunately, when they all got up to North Carolina, that was then the hurricane struck! We should be able to do better!


Verne Wattawa: What role will DOT and your office play in Critical Infrastructure Protection and PDD-63?

Janet Benini: A lot. During Y2K, we identified 609 mission critical systems within the Department. We now have ways (some better than others) to monitor those systems. We also are working with the transportation industry to encourage them to secure their systems. Obviously transportation is a target, particularly the FAA. The FAA is also very savvy about computer security. As far as old-fashioned critical infrastructure, roads and bridges we work closely with DOD to make sure we have current inventories and capabilities. Did you have something specific in mind, Verne?


Verne Wattawa: Yes, what do you plan with regards to protection of critical nodes in the transportation system?

Janet Benini: Again, during Y2K, we identified critical nodes, such as 435 critical airports, 43 transit systems, 8 railroad control points, etc. We also identified the "essential elements of information" for each of those locations, and a way to get that information (technical and human connections). We can re-activate that information gathering system as needed.


Lynn Orstad: We established "Disaster Response Route" roads in the Vancouver area here in BC, Canada. Unfortunately it is causing problems as the public think of them as evacuations routes not as response routes for emergency workers. Public Information still has not helped the situation. Suggestions on how this could be handled more effectively.

Janet Benini: Boy. It seems public information would be the key. Or maybe change the name to "public safety routes"? Just a thought.


Steve Charvat: Sorry for arriving late, Ms. Benini. What changes have been made since last hurricane season by DOT that will improve DOT's response during this year's season (which starts in only 15 days!)? Example, anything new?

Janet Benini: We have established a national contract for providing transportation. This will help get relief supplies into the areas. We have worked with the state DOTs on evacuation planning and will hold a conference June 26 - 28 in Atlanta on this topic. Longer term, we want to help Traffic Management Centers start working together with the local EOCs to integrate traffic management into emergency management. Also, longer term for areas that are likely to conduct evacuations we want to change the requirements for highways to add some specifications, like that reflectors must work from both sides, signage should read from both sides, etc. We're still studying how we could make the roads better evacuation routes.


Avagene Moore: Janet, I noticed that DOT has a Crisis Management Center in DOT Headquarters. How does the CRC relate to other federal communication centers? And to disaster EOCs in various regions/states?

Janet Benini: There are two full-time crisis centers within the DOT, one at the US Coast Guard and the other at FAA. The Crisis Management Center that our Office operates is activated when there is a large disaster (defined by us as one affecting more than one "mode.") Representatives from each of the modes of transportation participate, along with our CIO, PIO, congressional affairs, and Intelligence & Security offices. The primary job of the Crisis Management Center is to service the Secretary of Transportation, in providing information and coordinating among the different modes. Our primary relationship with state and local EOCs is through FEMA. We have an entire room over at the FEMA response center devoted to movement coordination.


Leslie Little: Thanks, Janet. I work specifically with high-risk special needs populations and am curious how DOT would handle an evacuation of such population groups if an evacuation order were called. Do you have a protocol on mass transport for these populations?

Janet Benini: Leslie, this is an area where I devoted a lot of attention when I was in California. We oversaw the development of several exemplary local programs. The state department of rehabilitation provided lift-equipped vans for people with disabilities. They organized themselves into pools that could assist others, if needed. Local television stations, when made aware of the needs, agreed to provide visual "trailers" on regular TV to give written as well as verbal disaster messages. The primary responsibility for evacuations is with the states and states working together with organizations that serve people with disabilities can make plans that will consider all members of the community.


Christopher Effgen: Your agency plays one of the littlest known "public" roles in natural disaster situations. Are there any plans on changing that situation? If I were to seek information from your agency on the Internet during a natural disaster, where would I go? Also, does your agency have a mailing list about its activities? Conferences, situation reports media releases?

Janet Benini: We are trying to improve our "image" and "visibility". We will be working on our Web site this summer; that is probably the best way to communicate with the public. Thanks, for your interest in us.


Avagene Moore: Janet, what is DOT's role in major military deployment?

Janet Benini: We manage a program called the "Civil Reserve Air Fleet". Through this program, specific airplanes are designated as being available for a national security mission, if required. In return, the airlines or companies receive subsidized insurance rates for those planes. If needed, the planes are brought into government service and may even be reconfigured (such as to carry stretchers). We then dispatch them to the site where needed, whether in this country or abroad.


Cam King: Janet, could you be sure EIIP gets the Web site address?

Avagene Moore: I hope Janet will give us her email address as well for future contacts.

Janet Benini: Of course: [email protected], http://www.rspa.dot.gov/oet/index.html I have a question for you?

Avagene Moore: Go ahead, Janet.


Janet Benini: How can DOT be more responsive to the needs of the states and local government?

Lynn Orstad: Sample plans, lessons learned from past events.

Leslie Little: A state or national contact person for organizations to work with in disaster mitigation and planning for program development.

Janet Benini: Good idea. We could post them on our Web site.

Avagene Moore: As a local coordinator, the local DOT office was very good to work with but it was always at my request. They never volunteered anything or asked the community emergency folks to be involved. I think the outreach could be better.

Janet Benini: We are trying to change the mindset, primarily the state and local DOTs have been involved in building roads and plowing snow, painting signs, etc. Now that we have the technical abilities to do some really creative things such as actually "manage" traffic, we are trying to inspire our state and local counterparts to stretch their boundaries and work on making the freeway system operational. Some are raring to go; others, are more "show me".


Cam King: Janet, several of us here today are from Canada. Could you give a little background on your activities with our Government?

Janet Benini: Yes, Cam. There is an organization called EPCCT, let's see if I can spell it out for you -- Emergency Planning Coordination & something Transportation that involves US DOT and Transport Canada. Edda Brown is the lead on your side. We meet annually, the next meeting will be in Washington at the end of June. Some of the issues we are working on, include trans-border utilities, for example much of the electricity used in the Northeastern US comes from Canada. Also, priority setting if both countries are involved and customs issues, with both sending and retrieving resources that cross the borders.


Kathleen Gohn: After a transportation disaster, there is a study and report by the NTSB. This seems to prevent the kind of repetitive loss that we see with natural disasters, like floods. Do you think we need something similar to NTSB, as the former chair of SNDR suggested, for exploring the causes of natural disasters?

Janet Benini: Good analogy, but the issues are somewhat different. When a plane crashes, the NTSB investigates and determines the cause of the crash. If it's a technical issue such as "horizontal stabilizer bars" or something like that, they look to see what other planes are using them, and if necessary, require a fix. But, if there's a flood, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to determine that people should not live within a certain distance from the river! It would be much more difficult to tell people all over the country to move. However, again using a transportation analogy, whenever there are earthquakes we study all the roads and bridges to determine the failures and then finance retrofitting others with similar designs. Certainly, mitigation can be improved.


Russell Coile: Janet, I suggest that you or Bill M. go to the GDIN Information Technology exposition.

Janet Benini: Is it in California ? -- we'll be there! Just kidding! We would like to be involved somehow. Russell, how can we plug in?

Avagene Moore: Russell just returned from GDIN meeting in Ankara, Turkey.

Russell Coile: On Oct 9-11 in Honolulu and give a talk. See <www.erim-int.com/CONF/GDIN.html>. I'll try to suggest it.

Janet Benini: Thanks for the lead. We'll look into it, and perhaps we can communicate off line.


Lois McCoy: Janet, I'm on their Conference Program Committee. Let's talk off-line.

Avagene Moore: Another good contact, Janet. Our time is about up for today's discussion. Again, the URL of the DOT Office of Emergency Transportation is <http://www.rspa.dot.gov/oet/index.html>.

Janet Benini: This went really fast for me, and I appreciate everyone's involvement.

Final Question:

Avagene Moore: Janet, thank you for your time and effort on our behalf today. Very interesting dialogue and a learning opportunity for our audience. Audience, thank you as well for being here today and for participating with us. Janet, if anyone has other questions, can they contact you by email or phone? If you would please insert contact info? Email was given earlier.

Janet Benini: Yes, phone is 202-366-5270.


Avagene Moore: And next week, we hope all of you will plan to be with us as we have an Open Forum to discuss "Global Warming: What is the worst case scenario for disaster impacts?" This is a very timely topic; there will be a list of 10 questions posted ahead of time for your review. Amy Sebring, EIIP Technical Projects Coordinator, will moderate the session next Wednesday, May 24, 12 Noon EDT. Be there!

Again, thank you, Janet. We appreciate everyone's time and attention today. We will formally adjourn the Forum for now. However, you are welcome to hang around a few minutes to chat and to express your appreciation to Janet for today's session. Meeting is adjourned!