Friday, March 14, 2014

Home Front: Mass transit

My daily commute takes me about 40 minutes, all up, and sees me at three train stations; my local station, a major junction station and a subway station. I'm ten stations out in the suburbs, so when I am in my way in, or getting home, the crowds have thinned considerably, but in the city, and at the junction station, there can be considerable crowds. Most of the time this isn't an issue, even at peak hour, as the trains are quite frequent and the stations laid out reasonably well.

They are, however, a nexus for people, all moving about, for the most part studiously ignoring everyone and everything. They feed into the choke-points and bottlenecks and I can only assume are unconcerned and oblivious.

When there are delays, usually for technical reasons (not pointing at the rail service provider, or the people stealing copper from signal boxes or anything), but also for environmental reasons (heat buckles the rails on occasion in summer, for example), or even safety reasons (sick passengers, people on the track), these crowds swell tremendously. Nothing new here. Station staff, roaming inspectors, even occasional Protective Services officer teams bolster incidental security, public order and safety.

However, I see this in terms of crowd density, choke points, exit placements and the potential for harm. Growing up in Thatcher-era UK, I am familiar with the specter of domestic terrorism. I see throngs of crowds on underground escalators and waiting at the platform in terms of potential casualty numbers, not to mention disease vectors.

Being stuck on an escalator, or at the bottom of one, waiting my turn on a regular 9-5 day, when everyone is polite and civil is one thing, add panic and strife, another beast entirely. I can usually just get on with my daily commute, without dwelling on it, but other times, I see and triage the risks.

What can we do to mitigate these potential risks? In regular life, we can out trust in the design and emergency response planning that the designers and operators have in place.

We have large, clear-sided waste bins in some train stations, to mitigate them as easy hiding spots for explosive devices, ubiquitous exit signage and fire prevention systems. All good ideas, however, in the event of panic, in a packed station, they may be difficult to operate or ineffective.

Too many people, too many choke points and environmental hazards.
I have similar concerns whilst on board. In regular circumstance, even the mundane issues or patient illness, technical issues, even incidental accidents are all things I have faith in the policy and procedures the operators have in place. It's in the instances of extraordinary events that I am given pause. Catastrophic power loss, or physical infrastructure failure. Major accidents or environmental disaster, or again, communicable disease come to mind. Standing room only, shoulder to shoulder, in a metal plastic and glass tube moving at 80kph. What can I do? What can anyone do?

Situational awareness is a great buzzword. I'm often engrossed in an iDevice, or a book, but I try remember to pause, look around me, watch the movements, postures and demeanours around me. I try to keep my earbuds turned down low, so I can still hear ambient noises and announcements, as well as conversations around me. I maintain control of my pack, full of needfuls and a variety of resources.I ensure my lights are charged, my kits are stocked and my head is in a good space.

Power has been lost in Melbourne's City Loop, leaving passengers stuck for up to 20 minutes.

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