By Debbie Hersman
When there is a major transportation accident —such as a plane crash, a train derailment, or a pipeline explosion — the stories of lives cut short are poignant. And, while many know the work the NTSB does to find out what happened and make recommendations to prevent future accidents, few know about the work our agency does to help family members of accident victims.
Our Transportation Disaster Assistance Division, or TDA, consists of six talented staff members who provide information and access to services for hundreds of family members and survivors from accidents in all modes of transportation each year. They do not do this on their own; but they coordinate services provided by the airlines, other government agencies, the Red Cross, and more.
Over the past year, as I have traveled to international conferences and met with my colleagues, I’ve heard repeatedly about the growing need to create a more formal process internationally for assisting families and survivors. The expectations for family assistance may be different in every country, but I was particularly struck when at the annual International Transportation Safety Board Association’s meeting, my counterparts from around the world looked to NTSB to take the lead in providing guidance and assistance.
This week, we are doing that. We are hosting an International Family Assistance Conference. The conference brings together nearly 300 people from 27 countries and 120 organizations. During the conference the NTSB will provide some information to interested parties about how to build their program, but we also seek to learn from our colleagues from around the world about how we can improve our program.
Our conference also commemorates the 15th anniversary of the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act. We’re honored that several family members who were instrumental in passing the legislation are attending the conference. I have learned so much about the importance of family assistance in my 7 years at the NTSB. I have seen incredible grace, strength and compassion from the families and friends of those lost in accidents and indeed, from entire communities in the aftermath of an accident. The video below tells the story of the NTSB’s family assistance program.