Go inside our Emergency Operations Center


Go inside our Emergency Operations Center


Safety and security are a primary focus at BART and that commitment is visible at our Emergency Operations Center. On this episode of “Hidden Tracks: Stories from BART” we’ll take you inside our Emergency Operations Center to learn what BART is doing to be as ready as possible for any disaster that could strike the region.  BART Emergency Manager Marla Blagg talks about this ongoing responsibility that BART has made a top priority.  Blagg also has tips on what riders can do to help keep themselves and fellow BART passengers safe.

Transcript below:

RECORDING OF EMERGENCY DRILL: “We’ve got information that we had a major accident with crude oil in the vicinity of the Hayward Yard.”

HOST: “There’s no such thing as overpreparing for a disaster.  Welcome to “Hidden Tracks: Stories from BART.”  On this episode of Hidden Tracks we’ll take you inside our Emergency Operations Center to learn what BART is doing to be as ready as possible for the next Big One or any other disaster that could strike the region.  It’s an on-going responsibility that BART has made a top priority.  To learn more we’ll hear from BART Emergency Manager Marla Blagg. 

Marla, thank you so much for your time and inviting us over to the Emergency Operations Center.” 

BLAGG: “Great, thanks for coming and visiting us here.”emergency prep

HOST: “Absolutely. We are sitting in BART’s very own Emergency Operations Center.  I think a lot of our riders may not even be aware that BART has a center like this.  Kind of describe the room we’re in and what happens here.”

BLAGG: “Sure, it’s just one large room and we have television sets and we have cable and DirecTV.  We have our CCTV cameras, white boards, large conference table and conferencing ability with the telephones and also all your administrative supplies:  photocopier, paper and pens.  This is our command center so if there’s any large issue that happens at BART we can get all into one spot and discuss what’s going on about the incident and try to solve and support whatever needs the district has.”

HOST: “I know you played really a leading role in getting this emergency operations center up and running.  Getting it established.  Let’s talk about that and why does BART need its own EOC?”

BLAGG: “Sure.  When I came on to BART, I’m a new hire about four years now and we didn’t have a large command center where we could coordinate any incidents.  So we built out the room, it was an existing structure and it came together quite quickly.  And why we need it?  It’s a great central point for everyone to come, hear the same information, reduce the silos and be able to work really strategically and effortlessly in moving the district faster towards system restoration in a safe and timely manner.”

HOST: “And I would imagine that’s really important because in responding to an emergency, the timing of it, minutes can really count.”

BLAGG: “It really can especially in the past year when we’ve had some heavy rains and wind effects, we have had some weather-related incidents that have affected BART and having a system that’s in a ready state 24-7, it allows us to come together quickly and solve our system’s issues.”

HOST: “Generally speaking, do many transit agencies have an emergency operations center?”

BLAGG: “The larger transit operators, LA Metro any of the large metropolitan transit operations, usually have a dedicated 24/7 emergency operations center.  Some of the smaller transit operators may have more a department operations center.  We also have at BART an Operations Control Center, which actually is running this system and the trains.  So the EOC helps to support and manage the system, we don’t run or operate any of the system out of here but we support the needs of the district.  So larger operators have emergency operations centers and smaller operators sometimes can be situated in the city or county emergency operations center.”

HOST: “I’m speaking with Marla Blagg who is BART’s Emergency Manager.  BART has to prepare for all sorts of possibilities.  I mean it can range from terrorism, it can range to natural disasters, of course we live in earthquake country. What sort of challenges does it present to have to be ready for so many different scenarios?”

BLAGG: “Preparedness is an all-hazard planning tool that we do and the challenge is you never know the size, complexity or any cascading events.  So as long as you plan and prepare a real solid framework, a base structure, then it allows for opportunities to plan for other national planning scenarios, which is recommended by the National Preparedness Guidelines.  That’s where we can deal with hazardous materials beyond weather-related incidents, technological incidents and just having that broad base all hazards planning approach allows you to be more prepared for whatever could be thrown your way.”emergency prep

HOST: “And there really is that unknown element.  For example it wasn’t that long ago I know the Emergency Operations Center was activated because we had a report of a barge that sank near the Transbay Tube.  Now that ended up not having any sort of impact on the BART system but nonetheless it just shows there are many many things that can happen and you have to respond to it.”

BLAGG: “Yes and what that allowed us to do by staffing up the Emergency Operations Center for that incident it allowed our partners, the Coast Guard, to be able to come together to give us updates and briefings and keep us abreast of the situation and if there were any issues for our riders.”

HOST: “And that’s a big deal too is collaboration is having those relationships with other agencies and being able to bring them in here on short notice.  Talk about why that’s important and what you do to build those relationships.”

BLAGG: “Sure.  We work with our local fire departments on an on-going basis with training drills and exercises.  We meet regularly with the fire department in the Emergency Operations Center.  Also our law enforcement partners and other California Office of Emergency Services partners have all met in the EOC and that helps.  So if there is an incident and we need support from our other partnering agencies that already know where the Emergency Operations Center is.  They’re familiar with the room, they’re familiar with our capabilities and it’s a good learning opportunity too so they understand our district and our system a little bit better so they can respond and help our riders in a safe manner.”

HOST: “Can you describe how much planning happens here at BART when it comes to preparing for emergencies?”

BLAGG: “Well my daily duties are planning, preparedness, planning, mitigation, planning, preparedness.  So everyday it’s trying to look at the what ifs and trying to determine solutions and strategies to make sure that those what ifs don’t become a challenge for our riders.”

HOST: “I’m speaking with Marla Blagg who is BART’s Emergency Manager and we are in BART’s Emergency Operations Center.  Now we talked about this a little bit but teamwork is really important in this field and you’re someone who is well connected in the community and with many of these other law enforcement agencies.  It just seems like that’s a real focal point for emergency preparedness and response is already being on the same page when something happens.”

BLAGG: “Yes, it’s really important and I’ll give you an example.  When we did some planning with San Francisco Department of Emergency Management when we started talking about an incident or a scenario for an exercise San Francisco had made some assumptions about BART that we wouldn’t be running and supporting the movement of our riders and in fact we would be running.  So it’s really great to talk about these planning scenarios and exercises in advance to make sure that we all know what our capabilities and support will be during an incident.”

HOST: “Marla, let’s talk a little bit about you.  I know you mentioned you joined the agency about four years ago.  How did you first get involved in this field?”

BLAGG: “So I came from the public health department and years ago the public health department was provided Homeland Security funds to deal with different types of health-related effects like pandemic flu and different sorts of areas where the public can be involved in a large-scale disaster.  From there my training just kept expanding and expanding and I became the fire department’s emergency manager and provided support to them and then came over to BART to be support for the transportation sector.”

HOST: “What do you like about this kind of work?”

BLAGG: “What I really love about this work is it’s challenging.  Every day is a new day.  You’re always trying to come up with strategies and solutions for things that you hadn’t thought of before and it’s really about providing a safe system for our riders.  Anyway I can help support that and make sure that we are prepared in the future to be more resilient so that we are here to provide a service is what I like best.”

HOST: “It really is quite a challenge and a responsibility when you think about it.  On a typical weekday we’re carrying well over 400,000 people on our trains, that’s the population of a pretty large city, I mean there’s a lot of responsibility that goes with that isn’t there?”

BLAGG: “Yes, it’s a lot of responsibility but it’s also really worthwhile.  Just knowing that every effort that we take for preparedness activities really makes the system stronger and more resilient and we’re here to provide that service to our riders.  I’m glad to be a part of the team that’s able to do that.”

HOST: “It’s an interesting career trajectory for you because this had been, at least in the past, a male-dominated field.  For you and your career goals has that present any sort of a challenge for you?”

BLAGG: “No, I don’t think it presents any sort of a challenge whatsoever.  I think the reason why it was predominately male oriented is because it was another duty as assigned.  Emergency management wasn’t really a true career discipline until recently and it was an assignment that was given to firefighters or police officers.  But now many of the universities offer career emergency management degrees and you’ll find that there are more females in the field now, which is wonderful.”

HOST: “Being at least a little prepared could really go a long way, especially for folks who rely on the BART system.  Do you have any preparedness tips for riders?  What should they have in mind when they’re on our trains?”

BLAGG: “Well I think that they should have their own preparedness plan and that goes from being prepared at home, knowing how to shut off your utilities and when you need to shut off your utilities, but also having a communication plan with your family and friends so that if you’re in the system and the system for whatever reason has to stop and you are in a different area having a communication plan so you know how to inform your loved ones where you’re at.  Also knowing the area so that if you do have to get off in a different spot than you’re normally familiar with, the other transit routes and the other systems that are available to you.”

HOST: “Do you think all the effort, all the work that goes into emergency preparedness at BART, should that give our riders confidence that they’re safe and we can respond quickly when a disaster strikes?”

BLAGG: “Absolutely.  Preparedness efforts with our partners our first responders, especially our fire departments, they’re all very very familiar with our system.  They know how to respond, they’ve been training in our system for years and our riders should feel really great about the service and support that we get from our fire folks.  However, they always need to be prepared and be vigilant and take responsibility for their own safety and be aware of their surroundings coming to and from the stations and making sure you’re vigilant and know what’s around you.  I know we’re all very interested in our cellphones but it’s good to look around and be cautious and insure your own safety.”

HOST: “I want to pick up on that as well though too because that really is important.  Everybody has a role in this and we tend to get in our own cocoon especially with PDAs, with the cellphones and what not and that really can be a problem.”

BLAGG: “I think you just need to be aware of your surroundings and also we have great safety placards in our BART trains.  Read those safety placards and be familiar with emergency procedures on the trains and listen to your train operator.  They will give you instructions during an emergency and so be listening for those messages.”

HOST: “BART’s Emergency Manager Marla Blagg, thank you so much for your hard work and your time for this interview.”

BLAGG: “Great, thanks so much Chris.”

HOST: “And thank you for listening to “Hidden Tracks: Stories from BART.”  You can listen to our podcasts on SoundCloud, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and of course at our website at BART.gov/podcasts.”