NTSB hosts International Family Assistance Conference

By Debbie Hersman

Chairman Hersman speaking with conference attendees

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.

NTSB Hosts Volunteer Pilot Safety Seminar

Flying Paws volunteers with their furry passenger

By Debbie Hersman

General James Doolittle led the first American air raid of World War II with all volunteers. He said later, “Nothing is stronger than the heart of a volunteer.” That is so true. Volunteerism in America goes back to our country’s founding 235 years ago, and the spirit of volunteerism is still alive and well.

Today, volunteer pilots transport patients for medical treatment. They also transport donated organs, fly disaster relief flights, patrol our waterways, and perform search-and-rescue missions. These men and women work with the Armed Forces, the Department of Homeland Security, nonprofit organizations, and even other foreign governments to keep people safe. They give of their own time, resources, and equipment to perform these missions, many of which would remain undone were it not for their belief in the importance of the mission, dedication, and self sacrifice.

Sadly, sometimes this dedication can come with painful consequences. The pressures to move patients to where they can receive needed treatment, to get an organ to a hospital on time, or to fly into an unsafe environment so that injured or stranded people can be evacuated can be a powerful motivator that overrides sound judgment about deteriorating weather, pilot currency and proficiency, equipment familiarity, training, and crew resource management.

That’s why the NTSB, along with Angel Flight and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), hosted a Volunteer Pilot Safety Stand Down/Seminar at the NTSB Training Center in Ashburn, Virginia. Two hundred volunteer pilots from a variety of organizations attended this full day of presentations and engaged in discussions about safety issues that directly relate to their missions. Pilots from Angel Flight, Civil Air Patrol, Coast Guard Auxiliary, Flying Paws, and many others attended. I was delighted to present the keynote address to the seminar.

The NTSB participated in this important training symposium because it addresses critical safety issues. During our accident investigations, we repeatedly see the tragic consequences of poor decision making. Through events like this, we can share what we’ve learned with pilots in the hope that the lessons can help prevent the same mistakes from happening in the future. With a renewed awareness of aviation’s inherent dangers, we want pilots to safely fly these important missions and continue that spirit of volunteerism.

NASA Administrator Bolden Kicks off NTSB Speaker Series

By Robert Sumwalt

On March 17, the NTSB kicked off our inaugural Speakers Series for employees. The Speakers Series is intended to highlight some of the most distinguished individuals from the fields of transportation safety, leadership, and technology.

NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Jr.

For our inaugural speaker, we could not have found a more engaging or dynamic individual than NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, Jr. In the span of one hour, we travelled from the earth to space and back, as the Administrator took us on a journey from his childhood home in Columbia, South Carolina, to orbiting the Earth as an astronaut aboard the Space Shuttle.

By recounting the emotional experience of playing quarterback in his high school championship football game hours after learning that President Kennedy had been assassinated, Administrator Bolden shared how that experience helped shaped his views on leadership, motivation, and service to country. Administrator Bolden also talked about the unique challenges he later faced as a member of NASA’s astronaut program and how those challenges provided opportunities for personal growth. Whether he was conducting science experiments in zero-gravity or commanding a Space Shuttle mission, each situation tested him physically, mentally, and intellectually.

Administrator Bolden with Bryce Stephens

Perhaps the highlight came, when Administrator Bolden singled out in the audience Bryce Stephens, the seven-year-old son of NTSB Chief Information Security Officer Chris Stephens. The Administrator challenged Bryce to apply himself in school, pursue his dreams, and predicted that one day Bryce might even walk on Mars.

Administrator Bolden has set the bar high for future Speakers Series lecturers. The staff of the NTSB look forward to gathering on Wednesday, June 22, to hear from author, pilot, and ABC News aviation analyst John Nance as our next Speakers Series guest.

Robert L. Sumwalt has been a Member of the NTSB since 2006. Through his initiative the NTSB Speakers’ Series was created in 2011. Working with a committee of NTSB staff members, he identifies and invites outstanding individuals to share their stories with federal employees.

Welcome to SafetyCompass

by Debbie Hersman

Chairman Debbie Hersman

Welcome to SafetyCompass. SafetyCompass is the new blog for the National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB.

The SafetyCompass name reflects our agency’s dedication to learning from our investigations and “pointing the way,” through our safety recommendations, to solutions that make us all safer. I hope that you’ll find the blog informative and interesting, and that through it, you’ll get to know the Board and its activities better.

To be updated frequently, the blog will provide an inside-out view of the Board’s activities and the important safety issues we’re focused on. One of the biggest benefits of a blog and an important reason the NTSB created SafetyCompass is to start a conversation with citizens, the people whose lives we work to safeguard. So I encourage you to check in with us often, and to share your thoughts, your questions and your feedback.

You can also find us on YouTube and Twitter, and we will continue to use all of these tools to keep you informed about the latest news from the Board.

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