By Debbie Hersman
One of the joys of heading up a stellar agency like the NTSB is that I get to lead a group of people who are some of the best and brightest in Federal government. Today, I am pleased to brag to you about one of our “stars.” Sharon Bryson has been selected as a finalist for the 2011 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals. The “Sammies” honor federal employees whose work has made significant contributions to our country. Sharon’s dedication to the families of transportation accident victims has certainly been a significant contribution of which we are proud and grateful.
In 1996, the U.S. Congress tasked the NTSB with providing assistance to family members following major aviation accidents. Sharon joined the NTSB in 1997 to be part of this important new mission, and in 2000, she was named director of the NTSB’s Transportation Disaster Assistance Division. Sharon worked diligently to create and define a program that has impacted the lives of tens of thousands of family members of those killed in, and survivors of, transportation disasters. Sharon has participated in the family assistance efforts following more than 140 major transportation accidents. But Sharon went beyond the task set by Congress and extended the program’s reach to smaller accidents and to accidents in other modes of transportation investigated by the NTSB.
Because of Sharon’s efforts, NTSB’s Transportation Disaster Assistance program now serves as a model for other federal agencies, the transportation industry, and foreign governments. For example, following the Sago Mine disaster, the Mine Safety Health Administration looked to us for help in establishing a family assistance plan. Governments in Japan, China, Australia, South Korea, and Brazil, and recently the European Union have used the NTSB family assistance legislation to develop similar plans. And in 2008, the U.S. Congress legislatively extended our program to families of victims in passenger rail disasters.
The NTSB is a small agency, but because of employees like Sharon, it has a big impact. For those who have lost loved ones in or survived a transportation accident, our Transportation Disaster Assistance Division is an important source for information and access to services. It’s a unique but very important role for a small agency to play in the lives of those impacted by an accident.
Congratulations, Sharon Bryson!