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Emergency response to Metrorail crash shows post-9/11 gains

Communications and coordination in D.C. area were smooth, akin to rescue after Hudson plane crash.

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District of Columbia Fire and Emergency workers at the site of the rush-hour collision between two Metro transit trains in northeast Washington, D.C. Monday.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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First responders' effective handling of Monday's rail accident in Washington, coupled with the smooth rescue after a Hudson River plane crash in January, may indicate that the post-9/11 demand for better, faster emergency response is being met – at least in some of the nation's big cities.

"The regional response that is required during extraordinary incidents (Hudson and Metro being two good recent examples) has, in my opinion, significantly improved since 9/11," Daniel Kaniewski, deputy director of George Washington University's Homeland Security Policy Institute, wrote Wednesday in an e-mail interview. He served in the Bush White House as special assistant to the president for homeland security and senior director for response policy.

Triggering an effective response

On Monday afternoon, one Metrorail train slammed into a second train stopped outside the Fort Totten Station in Northeast Washington. The impact pushed part of the moving train onto the top of the stationary train. Two-thirds of the moving train's lead car was crushed, killing nine and injuring more than 70 people.

The Metrorail accident, which disrupted the daily commute for thousands in the Washington area, tested how the nation's capital would cope with a major incident. What happened was "an effective regional response," Mr. Kaniewski said in an online commentary.

In the wake of the accident, emergency vehicles converged on the scene. "As I monitored the radio traffic of the local agencies involved, I expected to hear chaos; but instead I heard the calm and ordered dispatch of emergency units and informative reports from arriving personnel," Kaniewski wrote.

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