Urgent Matters

A stark reminder of why training is so important


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.

Discuss this Blog Entry 4

NY Radio (not verified)
on Apr 12, 2013

Maybe if Danny Hay had a new super duper, push-to-wait, IP, GSM, Firstnet Enabled, D Block Ready, Y2K compatible, LTE handy dandy camera phone he could have sprung into action, snapped a picture of the man on the tracks. Immediately sent it to a park ranger in Colorado who could have phoned the train engineer to stop the train and advert a national disaster. Whew, thank god for camera phones. At least he didn't send a text message as transit users only get second priority.

resham (not verified)
on Apr 15, 2013

Good post NY Radio, But you forgot to mention that he could also have had the opportunity to post the victim getting run over by the train on You Tube, My Space and all the other useless web sites with his fancy LTE garbage do everything, except work sensibly, communication device.

This is exactly along the lines as to why some search and rescue people I know still carry signalling mirrors, flashlights (with lots of spare batteries) and real compasses as backups to their overpriced portable radios and GPS units.

on Jan 1, 2014

Interesting and gripping read. I am a former two way man who career changed into law enforcement and after several years of it have decided to return to my bench. Problem is everything is so advanced I have decided to return to school (again) and retread myself (again). I want to relearn this industry, miss the days of simple v/uhf analog comms.

Please, any advice is appreciated!

on Feb 18, 2014

Training for technology is often funded and technology is well funded, what is not funded is the human side of TeleCommunicator - the needs of the 911 personnel are put aside for technology and this is historical and is getting better.

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Insights from Donny Jackson concerning the most important news, trends and issues.


Donny Jackson

Donny Jackson is editor of Urgent Communications magazine. Before joining UC in 2002, he covered telecommunications for four years as a freelance writer and as news editor for Telephony magazine....
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