A stark reminder of why training is so important in any system.
Apr. 11, 2013 by Glenn Bischoff in Urgent Matters/Urgent Communications.

Training often seems to be the first item cut when budgets are tight, but a recent New York transit incident provides vivid evidence of the importance of proper training.
A few days ago, a New York City transit worker encountered a grave situation, as reported by an item that I found on Yahoo News. A man had fallen onto the tracks and was convulsing. The transit worker—55-year-old Danny Hay—immediately tried to radio the agency’s control center, with no success (the story provided no details concerning why the communication failed). So, Hay ran to a station booth and told the person manning it to contact the control center and tell those in charge to cut power to the electrified third rail.

When Hay returned to the scene of the emergency, he discovered that two patrons had jumped down onto the tracks to try to help the stricken man. That wasn’t all that he discovered: a rush of air from the tunnel was the unmistakable sign that a train was coming—and that the third rail still was electrified.

So here’s the situation at that moment: three people, one of which is suffering convulsions, are on the tracks, with a train bearing down on them, only a few feet from a rail that can fry them should they come into contact with it.

Thinking quickly, Hay ran to the end of the platform and used his flashlight to signal the train operator to stop before he entered the station. According to the story, transit workers are trained to utilize a series of signals to communicate with each other when normal communications are unavailable.

The title of our franchise is Urgent Communications, and undeniably this particular episode qualifies as such, with three lives at stake. What impressed me most was what Hay did after normal communications failed, not once, but twice. This is important, because communications can fail, for myriad reasons. When they did a few days ago in Manhattan, Hay had only a few seconds to assess the situation and determine what to do. The fact that he was well trained resulted in incredibly quick thinking that saved three lives.

The moral of this story is that communications training is vital. And as this episode illustrates, training should not just encompass how to use the communications technology; it also must encompass how to respond when it isn’t working. Because of his training, Hay was able to communicate without any technology at his disposal. That’s awesome.

Yet, after a decade in this industry, we still hear complaints about inadequate communications training. Funding—or, more accurately, the lack of it—is the big bugaboo. The federal sequester likely is exacerbating the situation, but the problem always has existed—there always seems to be something more important to fund.

If you could track down the three people who found themselves on the subway tracks in Manhattan last Sunday, I think they would argue that point. They are alive today because the transit agency planned for the contingency of communications failure and ensured that its employees knew what to do when it happened.

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