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6C h a p t e r 1 Paratransit is an alternative mode of flexible passenger transportation that does not follow fixed routes or schedules. By van, mini-bus or bus, paratransit agencies transport millions of Americans each day. Paratransit services may vary considerably on the degree of flexibility they provide their customers. At their simplest they may consist of a taxi or small bus that will run along a more or less defined route and then stop to pick up or discharge passengers on request. At the other end of the spectrum is fully demand-responsive transport. The most flexible paratransit systems offer on-demand, call-up, and door-to-door service from any origin to any destination in a service area. Paratransit services are operated by public transit agencies, community groups or not-for-profit organizations, as well as for-profit private companies or operators. Paratransit services are delivered in urban, suburban, rural, and tribal areas and can be either complemen- tary paratransit as required by the ADA, or general public demand-response transportation. Mission Paratransit service providers have a special role in supporting the mobility of people within their service area, including those with access and functional needs, and in fulfilling critical transportation requirements during emergencies. Paratransitâs primary responsibility during emergencies is to provide transportation services to existing customers. Additionally, large or small, urban or rural, public or private, paratransit providers are now being recognized as signifi- cant players in responding to local and regional emergencies. In fulfilling this new role, however, paratransit providers face numerous challenges in defining appropriate responses to emerging emergency planning and preparedness requirements. During an emergency, most paratransit providers consider first and foremost the safety and well being of the passengers who are onboard their vehicles, the drivers and dispatchers provid- ing service, and the vehicles and facilities critical to the operation. Depending on the nature of the emergency, in the minutes and hours after a specific event, paratransit service providers will typically work to address the needs of: 1. Passengers who are onboard; 2. Passengers who traveled using the service earlier in the day and are attempting to return home; 3. Passengers who are at home and require life-sustaining trips; and 4. Passengers with pre-existing non-life-sustaining scheduled trips who are at home awaiting pickup. Only once these priorities are managed can the paratransit provider begin to support emergency operations as directed by local, regional, state, or federal emergency management or first-responder Introduction
Introduction 7 personnel. Yet many in the emergency management and planning community may anticipate a high degree of support from paratransit providers directly following an emergency. Both to enhance immediate response to emergency situations and to support greater inte- gration into community planning and preparedness, this Handbook highlights important emergency planning considerations for urban/suburban and rural/tribal paratransit service providers and provides public and private paratransit service operators with tools and resources to support enhanced communication and coordination with local and state emergency man- agement agencies and personnel. It is essential that paratransit, public transit, law enforcement, fire and rescue, emergency medical services, and emergency managers work and plan both independently and together in order to build internal and external relationships that will lead to better communication, coordination, and cooperation in the delivery of paratransit services during an emergency. The extent to which services can be successfully delivered in an emergency depends on many factors, including the characteristics of the area in which a transit system operates, the characteristics of the transit system, the characteristics of an emergency incident, the predisposition of the public, and available resources. It is hoped that this Handbook and its supporting materials will assist paratransit providers in becoming more resilient, resourceful, and robust during all phases of emergency management: preparedness, prevention, response, and recovery. To more clearly understand certain Handbook sections, it may be helpful to be familiar with NIMS and the Incident Command System (ICS). Research Background This Handbook is based on an extensive literature review of critical resources issued by local, state and federal agencies including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and the Transportation Research Board (TRB). Input was also gathered from paratransit providers and other stakeholders through more than sixty in-depth interviews with over 150 expert partici- pants nationwide, including representatives of organizations supporting citizens with access and functional needs, the university research community, and paratransit providers with experi- ence in major emergency situations. Additionally, contents of this Handbook were validated through workshops involving paratransit managers, transit managers, emergency managers, first responders, and other partner agencies. Use of This Handbook Recommended steps to effectively utilize this Handbook: 1. Refer to the appendix of this Handbook for the definition of terms and acronyms used in this Handbook. 2. Complete the Capabilities Assessment Checklist in Chapter 2. This checklist is a self-assessment tool for evaluating paratransit emergency preparedness and operations. It can guide an assess- ment of the existing emergency preparedness, prevention, response and recovery posture. Based on this evaluation, your agency should be able to identify emergency-related strengths, as well as areas needing improvement, and track progress over time. Each question in the checklist is indexed to corresponding guidance in the Handbook. 3. Read the guidance offered in Chapters 3 through 6; each chapter is divided into important elements. Guidance for each element includes a synopsis of the topic area, considerations
8 paratransit emergency preparedness and Operations handbook based on agency size and composition, and effective practices identified through this TCRP research effort. Each element has correlating strategies and tools. 4. Use the strategies and tools to create action plans that build paratransit emergency capa- bilities in areas that were identified as needing improvement in the Capabilities Assessment Checklist. 5. Access the resource links at the end of each strategy/tool section for information that may help your agency to strengthen its emergency-related mission. Note that some resource links are appropriate regardless of agency size and operating characteristics, while other links are specific to urban/suburban or rural/tribal paratransit systems. 6. Based on the steps above, move forward in building your paratransit agencyâs emergency preparedness and operations infrastructure.