Category Archives: Family Assistance

Act to End Distracted Driving: One Life at a Time

By Acting Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt

“Whoever saves one life, it is as if he has saved an entire world.”

On April 26, I found myself echoing this saying from the Talmud more than once at “Act to End Distracted Driving,” a roundtable hosted by the NTSB in collaboration with Stopdistractions.org, DRIVE SMART Virginia, and the National Safety Council. The roundtable brought together survivor advocates to facilitate more effective action on distracted driving.

It was a moving and insightful day, with participants expressing the impact that distracted driving has had on their lives and on the lives of their loved ones. Survivor advocates spoke about trying to give a voice to those who can no longer speak for themselves, turning their personal tragedies into effective advocacy efforts to prevent others from going through what they have gone through. Incredibly, many survivor advocates expressed frustration that they had not done enough. Here are some of the takeaways from the roundtable.

A club we don’t want to be in. Once one participant made this remark— “this is a club we don’t want to be in”—it resonated around the table. It also reverberated in a question another participant asked: “How many of you thought distracted driving would affect you before you lost someone?”

But this “club” exhibited incredible mutual support, gritty determination, and smart strategy, even as its members revisited their losses, relived their grief, and shared their stories.

From pain to passion. Survivor advocates recognized that they’d “taken pain and transformed it into passion and pushed their agenda [to end distracted driving].”

“Collaboration equals change,” another participant said. “Together, we can tackle this.”

“Branch out as an advocate,” one participant offered. “There are so many demographics to reach. It’s not just about speaking to teens.”

“Work with everyone. Life isn’t a guarantee—we don’t know when it will end. Enforcement is the biggest thing that should be pushed out.”

“Technology is advancing faster than laws are changing. Your story can change a life.”

“Never underestimate the power and impact we have on someone else’s life and the world we live in.”

From passion to action. Survivor advocates took their passion and turned it into action.

“Form a coalition. Find people in your state capitol, hometown, etc., that feel the same as you do on distracted driving. Don’t do it alone.”

“We are not alone. There are thousands of us. Stay the course. Celebrate successes. Rest, but stay the course.”

“[Understand the] critical importance of putting a face to the epidemic. Leverage supporters to end distracted driving. Advocates are critical to making an impact.”

“We have to work together. All are making a difference. Little by little, we are making progress.”

“Gain knowledge, meet people, to accomplish the goal to make change.”

“People make this program work. Stay in touch and work with folks and boots on the ground. Don’t take a 10,000-feet-level perspective.”

The power of stories.

“There is incredible power in telling stories. Stories can change the world. I will continue to tell my story and the stories of people I’ve met. I’m optimistic and I look forward to saving a whole bunch of lives.”

“Statistics tell, stories sell. Today has ‘sold’ my heart. Sharing stories defines a person’s character. Bad things will happen, but how you respond defines your character.”

“Your story is being heard. You’ve inspired me to reach beyond to influence others.”

We can all be advocates.

“We all have the potential within us to become advocates. Taking the message with us to our homes, towns, schools, etc., is the best way to honor the loved ones lost.”

“I never thought I would be sitting here. Now I’ve gotten my strength at looking at the grandchildren that were left behind. They have to grow up without their mother. So much information that has been shared . . . friends I’ve made will help me continue to make change.”

“I have a clear pathway to help families who experience loss from distracted driving. Children will emulate the behavior of their parents and other influencers in their lives. “

Impressions from the day.

“There is something bigger here than just what I can control. I’m going to expand my sphere of influence on how to make an impact on distracted driving.”

“United we stand, divided we fall. Don’t give up, we will end this fight.”

“[Today was] confirmation that I want to do this the rest of my life; to be an advocate and improve road safety.”

“[I’m] grateful to have the opportunity to be here, meet other advocates, learn more to continue the fight.”

If this could be you . . .

Everybody processes grief differently. But if you are a survivor who wants to be an advocate, or if you simply recognize that distracted driving requires a big change in our laws and culture, there is somewhere to turn. Advocates have worked together to form the National Alliance for Distraction Free Driving. On its website, you will find advocacy resources, templates for presentations, videos, and other tools contributed by many organizations working to turn the tide against deadly distractions.

As we concluded the roundtable, I said again, “‘Whoever saves one life, it is as if he has saved an entire world.’ You don’t have to save the world. All you need to do is keep one person from dying, and if you have done that, it is as if you have saved an entire world. Your work is important. You are making a difference. And you are saving lives.”

You, too, can make a difference and save lives. Next time someone calls you and you know they are driving, ask them to call back once they’re not behind the wheel. Next time you are with a driver who attempts to text, call, or post something on social media, politely ask them to stop. After all, we are all in this fight together.

ACT TO END DEADLY DISTRACTIONS

Distracted(NoCall).jpg

By Acting Chairman Robert Sumwalt

Distracted driving kills, on average, nine people every day on our highways and injures even more. Every day, families are left to grieve the loss of a loved one killed in a highway crash, their lives suddenly in disarray. These preventable tragedies must stop. We must all do our part and take action so that families no longer lose loved ones to a preventable death.

Often, the families and friends left behind after a fatal car crash become survivor advocates, turning their tragedy into action. This week, we will be hosting some of these survivor advocates at our second distraction roundtable, Act to End Deadly Distractions. We will be teaming with Stopdistractions.org, DRIVE SMART Virginia, and the National Safety Council to host this discussion.

I’m excited to facilitate this event, which is designed to focus on survivor advocates’ experiences of what has worked and what hasn’t in their fight against distracted driving. Above all, this roundtable is designed to facilitate effective action. The survivor advocate community will be exploring ways to act in their own towns and states to “move the needle” toward zero distracted driving deaths.

Our first distraction roundtable brought together experts to dive into what we know and don’t know about the science of distraction. At that event one fact became clear: distracted driving is taking lives. According to one market research company, since 2007, the percentage of Americans ages 13 and older with smartphones went from 6% to more than 80%. Although there have always been distractions competing with our focus on driving, these devices are especially addictive and, despite what we tell ourselves, we cannot safely or effectively multitask. To turn the tide will take a change in culture, especially in attitudes about portable electronic devices.

Experience with other causes of highway deaths shows that the science alone will not be enough to stop tragedy. Nor will awareness efforts. Heightened awareness, the right laws and policies, and tough enforcement all must play a role. The NTSB often makes recommendations aimed at changing safety culture within a company or even within a whole industry. We have recommended that states pass legislation to ban drivers from nonemergency use of portable electronic devices. We can’t “recommend” a way to change the minds and behavior of a whole nation of drivers, so we’re facilitating a conversation among survivor advocates and experts in awareness campaigns and in state houses.

We hope that you’ll join us. The roundtable begins at 9:00 am, April 26, in the NTSB Board Room and Conference Center, 429 L’Enfant Plaza, SW, Washington, DC. The event is convenient to the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station. You can also watch the event live at http://ntsb.capitolconnection.org/ and comment via Twitter @NTSB using #Act2EndDD.

 

Empathy, Compassion and the Golden Rule: Passenger and Family Assistance Operations

By Katy Chisom

Vice Chairman Dinh-Zarr addresses attendees at NTSB's conference on Passenger and Family Assistance OperationsThree ideas serve as the foundation for successful family assistance: empathy, compassion and the golden rule. Seemingly simple, these three concepts provide essential guidance for emergency managers who find themselves working with family members in the aftermath of a transportation disaster.

On May 7, 2015, the NTSB’s Transportation Disaster Assistance division hosted the agency’s first formal meeting of passenger rail professionals from across the country. Participants from as far as San Diego, CA traveled to Washington, DC to connect with the NTSB, Amtrak, the American Red Cross and other passenger rail agencies and exchange ideas regarding not just establishing, but improving their family assistance plans for the aftermath of a major accident.

The focus on including family assistance in emergency response operations is especially important to NTSB Vice Chairman Dr. T. Bella Dinh-Zarr. Vice Chairman Dinh-Zarr opened this month’s conference by providing a great example of her family’s daily reliance on passenger rail lines. Both she and her husband use commuter rail during the work week and frequently take the train on weekends for sightseeing excursions or to visit with friends and family. With such large numbers of people utilizing the rail systems, the focus on family assistance in the aftermath of an accident is an important aspect of emergency response.

Max Green, Emergency Operations Coordinator for the NTSB’s Transportation Disaster Assistance division highlighted key aspects of a successful family assistance operation. He emphasized the importance of the initial interaction with family members and addressing their concerns. For a rail carrier, notification of a loved one’s involvement in an accident is an important aspect of family assistance. Although it may be difficult to determine who was onboard without a manifest, it is important that carriers provide as much information as possible to the local emergency manager to properly account for those involved. Max further emphasized the rail carrier’s responsibility in making contact with affected family groups as soon as possible. News today travels quickly and families will likely know about an accident through websites and social media before a company is able to issue a formal press release. Establishing a plan for timely notification of involvement provides the carrier with an opportunity to take responsibility, offer condolences, provide accurate information, assign a point of contact, and offer available resources and assistance.

Amtrak provided a strong presence during the conference with 7 participants and 3 presentations. Susan Reinertson, Vice President of Emergency Management and Corporate Security, and Mary Carlson, Senior Manager of Training and Exercises, provided an extensive overview of Amtrak’s commitment to family assistance operations through preparedness and community collaboration.  Although Amtrak is legislated by Congress to provide family assistance to its passengers after an accident, they strive to go beyond the assurances required by the 2008 legislation. Several times a year, Amtrak conducts emergency response exercises that include family assistance operations. Mary Carlson spoke about a full scale exercise in Chicago in which Amtrak and its community partners established a family assistance center and recruited volunteers from major air carriers to role play as family members to allow Care Team members practice their roles and the caring provision of services. Through this dedication of time and resources, Amtrak continues to emphasize the importance of caring for its employees, passengers and their families before and after an accident.

Agencies present at the meeting included: All Aboard Florida, Charlotte Area Transit System, Herzog Transit Services Incorporated, Keolis Rail Services Virginia, Maryland Transit Administration, North County Transit District, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, Utah Transit Authority, Virginia Railway Express, and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Although the majority of the attendees are not required by law to provide family assistance to its passengers after an accident, their attendance and participation demonstrates a commitment to customer service and “doing the right thing” even when no one is watching.

Paul Sledzik, Chief of the NTSB Transportation Disaster Assistance division, often reminds stakeholders that “when all else fails, remember these three concepts: empathy, compassion, and the golden rule” during all interactions with family members. When an emergency manager is able to view each step in the process with those concepts in mind, the operational planning will remain focused on taking care of the customer and continuing to provide the best service possible for the given situation.


Katy Chisom is a Coordinator of Victim Services for the Transportation Disaster Assistance division within the NTSB Office of Communications.

You Can Never Be too Prepared for a Disaster

By Michael Crook

Michael CrookTomorrow starts the NTSB’s training course, Transportation Disaster Response – Family Assistance.  I and my colleagues in the NTSB’s Transportation Disaster Assistance (TDA) division will spend the next three days with other presenters helping attendees to understand how any organization involved in transportation accident response can most effectively support accident victims and their families.

Long before I came to work at the NTSB, I took this very same training course while working for Pinnacle Airlines as the Manager for Emergency Response, Security, and Flight Safety.  I know from my 16 years in the aviation industry that airlines strive to make each flight as safe as possible.  When something goes wrong, however, having a plan in place and obtaining the necessary training can make all the difference in working with accident victims and families.  I know this from personal experience, having worked 11 aviation accidents as either an emergency responder or accident investigator, most recently when Colgan Air (Continental Connection) Flight 3407 crashed on February 12, 2009 in Clarence Center, New York.

My first accident after taking the basic family assistance course was the October 2004 Pinnacle Airlines Flight 3701 crash in Jefferson City, Missouri.  Unlike in previous accidents to which I had responded, I felt better able to prepare and guide my team on what the day-to-day challenges would be.  I now understood the families’ motivation for information and how the families’ needs differ depending on whether they are passenger or employee families, where such employee-related matters as workers compensation may need to be addressed.  I also felt better able to respond to the emotional impact of dealing with personal effects.  In addition, this was the first accident in which my team and I had to address the needs of displaced individuals on the ground whose homes were destroyed, a requirement for airlines that was mandated after the crash of American Airlines flight 587 in 2001.

Federal legislation specifies that domestic air carriers, foreign air carriers, and interstate intercity passenger rail operators must provide comprehensive and effective family assistance.  The lessons learned in this course, however, have significant value for any organization involved in emergency response.  For example, as part of the US Army National Guard, I have responded to several natural disasters, including the 2005 Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the 2011 tornado in North Alabama.  What I learned in the TDA course was particularly important as our National Guard Disaster Relief teams worked to understand the victims’ basic needs and to establish community response centers.  TDA training courses often draw a varied audience of emergency response organizations.  In addition to the almost 20 airlines and 5 airports sending representatives to tomorrow’s class, we have representatives from multiple local, state, and federal agencies as well as attendees from the cruise line industry, mental and behavioral health organizations, and pipeline operators.

The NTSB’s TDA team doesn’t stop with this family assistance course.  In addition to other courses available at the NTSB Training Center, we travel around the country to conduct trainings and briefings on transportation family assistance response for airlines, airports, local and state agencies and professional associations.  The bottom line is to ensure an effective response for the ultimate customers of the service: the family members of victims and survivors of transportation accidents.


Michael Crook is the Coordinator for Transportation Disaster Operations in the Transportation Disaster Assistance Division, Office of Communications.

A True Crusader for Victims’ Issues

By Debbie Hersman

Chairman Hersman with  Hans Ephraimson-Abt
Chairman Hersman with Hans Ephraimson-Abt

On October 18, the aviation community lost a giant among men: Hans Ephraimson-Abt.  In his New York Times obituary, the headline described him as an “Air-Crash Victims’ Crusader.”  I couldn’t help but think how aptly the term “crusader” fit him, for he applied every means at his disposal to advance victims’ issues for decades.

There is no doubt that the positive changes we have seen in the way air crash victims and their families are treated in the aftermath of a transportation tragedy is due in no small part to Hans’ efforts over the last 30 years.  For those of us in this line of work, we know all too well Hans’ personal story of the tragedy of his daughter, Alice, and the ill-fated flight of Korean Air Lines flight 007. But perhaps what is more remarkable is that in all the years that I worked with Hans, I never sensed any bitterness or resentment in him.

Through the decades, as he faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles to get a law passed, or an international treaty signed, he never took “no” for an answer.  He knew he could not win every battle, but he never gave up the fight.  As a crusader, he was fierce and dogged in his determination.  But he was always the diplomat and the gentleman.  A few weeks before his passing, when we were together at the 38th General Assembly of ICAO in Montreal, there he was, engaging another delegate or ambassador to support the ratification of the Montreal Convention or the new ICAO policy on family assistance in air disasters.

This past spring, Hans invited me to attend a small private reception at the home of the consul general for the German mission in New York.  With his children, grandchildren and a few dear friends in attendance, he received the Order of Merit, one of the highest civilian awards bestowed by the Republic of Germany.  To me, it was a climactic moment in Hans’ life. Here was a man whose family had fled his native Germany on the eve of World War II, spending time in work camps, not knowing where his parents and family members were. Years later, he emigrated to a new life in New York, where he was reunited with his parents.

Yes, Hans was a crusader but he was also a survivor.  And because he knew firsthand about the mistreatment of others, he made it a point to rise above it.  He never had a bad word to say about anyone.  He demonstrated through his life’s work that you can always be kind and courteous even when you disagree.  Hans didn’t take to compliments easily.  He would demur if you wanted to heap praise on him.  But as I stood and witnessed that event in New York, I could see how deeply he was touched by the honor bestowed on him, for his selfless contributions, and this one time, he accepted the recognition he so deserved.

When I saw him at the ICAO meetings in Montreal, on his lapel, he wore the ribbon that accompanied his medal.  As always, he was gracious and kind in our meetings.   As always, he urged us to continue the crusade.  With his passing, a new leadership will take up the cause that he began 30 years ago.  And like Hans, we can’t win every battle.  But if we remain true to our cause and to ourselves, then one day, perhaps we can fully realize Hans’ crusade for compassionate treatment of all survivors and victims’ families in the aftermath of aviation tragedies.

Worldwide Compassion

The earthBy Debbie Hersman

Here in the United States, major aviation accident victims and their families receive support and information from the NTSB and other agencies under the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996.

Since the law was enacted, several other countries passed similar legislation, but no worldwide guiding policy existed for implementing support for those impacted by large-scale aviation accidents. This took an important turn last week when the governing Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization, the aviation body of the United Nations, unanimously approved a policy document calling on its 191 member states to reaffirm their commitment to support aviation accident victims and their families (http://www.icao.int/Newsroom/Pages/ICAO-policy-document-puts-renewed-focus-on-care-of-aircraft-accident-victims-and-family-members.aspx).

I am particularly pleased with the ICAO announcement and recognize the leadership and hard work that enabled this important step to be taken. The NTSB, working with other international governmental and non-governmental interests, played an important role in the development of the policy and the revision of the supporting guidance document. Our Transportation Disaster Assistance program staff provided consultation during the process and continues to respond to requests from other countries about implementing and managing an effective family assistance program.

Thankfully, major aviation accidents are rare, but, when they do happen, victims and their families needs should be addressed in a compassionate manner – the new policy and guidance go a long way towards making that happen.

Serving the Living

By Debbie Hersman

Today, I spoke at the International Mass Fatality Management Conference, which brought together leaders in mass fatality management to explore past incident management, discuss lessons learned, and define best practices to improve future responses. It was a privilege to be with dedicated professionals from 38 states, 19 countries, and several government agencies who deal with such important, complex, and sensitive issues.

My remarks were based on the NTSB’s experience in coordinating assistance to family members after major accidents. While NTSB has the responsibility to facilitate victim recovery and identification, we do not conduct those processes. That responsibility remains with the local medical examiner or coroner. Yet, these offices can rely on our Transportation and Disaster Assistance team (TDA) to work closely with U.S. jurisdictions to ensure they get needed resources and advice.

Importantly, while their work must be done correctly from a technical perspective, it is essential to effectively and compassionately address the needs and concerns of family members regarding victim recovery and identification. Interactions with family members are crucial, but it is equally crucial they be conducted with professionalism, understanding, and compassion.

We’ve learned a lot since Congress gave us this responsibility in 1996. We know there is a constant and often delicate balance to maintain between the medicolegal responsibilities associated with any mass fatality event and the concerns of the bereaved. Yet, I reminded the audience that the way family members are treated during the initial response will stay with them forever, which underscores the importance of doing the work correctly and always with an understanding of the importance of families.

Poet-undertaker Thomas Lynch captured the importance of the audience’s work in his poem, “Local Heroes,” about the forensic response to the 2001 World Trade Center disaster. Lynch wrote: “… here, brave men and women pick the pieces up. They serve the living, caring for the dead.”