September 14, 2009
The classifieds in this issue include two chief executive officer positions!
Transit Agencies Prepare for Possibility of Pandemic Flu
Across the country, public transportation agencies have been developing response plans for a possible H1N1 flu pandemic after the U.S. government issued a declaration on April 26, 2009, of a public health emergency.
On June 11, 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) signaled that a global pandemic—an epidemic of infectious disease that spreads through human populations across a large region, such as a continent, or even worldwide—of H1N1 was underway.
Among the many preventive measures taken by public transportation agencies, the most common are to provide hand sanitizer to both riders and employees and to ramp up cleaning efforts to keep their vehicles and facilities hygienic.
For example, UMass Transit in Amherst, MA, now has a crew wipe down the steering wheels, radios, stations, seat backs, and door handles of its buses as part of the nightly cleaning regimen. The agency’s office and dispatch personnel are responsible for wiping down their computers, phones, and door handles within their work areas.
In York, PA, rabbittransit uses an environmentally friendly disinfectant cleaner to wipe down surfaces throughout the system. The agency has reassigned staff to clean hard contact surfaces such as fare equipment, steering wheels, overhead hand straps, handrails, stop cords, and other “touch surfaces” on board its buses.
Rose Lucey-Noll, executive director of the Cambria County Transit Authority (CamTran) in Johnstown, PA. noted the agency’s participation in nationwide efforts to protect against the flu. “We have increased our bus and transit center cleaning efforts to try and keep the flu virus at bay,” she said, “plus we have installed anti-bacterial dispensers at all CamTran facilities. Internally, we also remind our employees to stay home if they are sick. We believe education and prevention are integral in mitigating the spread of any type of influenza outbreak.”
The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District in San Francisco is installing hand sanitizer dispensers in lavatories and increasing the disinfection of on-board tables and other surface areas on board its ferries. It is also providing, but not requiring, protective gloves and masks for its front-line bus employees.
The Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County (RTC) in Reno, NV, has purchased and stored surgical masks for staff and fit-tested respirators for coach operators, as well as making hand sanitizer available to both employees and passengers.
In addition to providing sanitizing wipes, Broward County Transit in Pompano Beach, FL, is exploring new cleaning technologies: a fogger that will kill surface bacteria and an ultraviolet light that also kills airborne bacteria. “We believe these bio-decontaminate cleaning processes will go further in keeping our properties clean,” said spokesperson Phyllis Berry, “so our riders and bus operators can be even more assured of the cleanliness of our transit environment.”
Virginia Railway Express (VRE), serving the northern Virginia suburbs, recently informed its passengers of the steps it is taking to curb the H1N1 virus. “I don't want anybody to be worried when they board a VRE train,” said VRE Chief Executive Officer Dale Zehner, “so we have taken extra steps to ensure thorough cleaning of the trains to reduce the risk. All railcars are sterilized from top to bottom; seats, handrails, anything that a rider might come into contact with, to add an additional layer of prevention to the equation and give riders greater comfort. Also, we ask riders to be diligent as well by doing some very simple things, such as washing hands and coughing into a sleeve. These steps act as a first line of defense against the spread of the infection.”
In Peoria, IL, Alice Arn, spokesperson for the Greater Peoria Mass Transit District (CityLink), noted that the agency has provided free flu shots to all employees for several years, and this year’s vaccinations will be given on agency premises. As of now, she said, the program covers only the regular seasonal flu vaccine, not the H1N1 vaccine.
CamTran is also offering free flu shots and is awaiting word about future availability of H1N1 vaccination for its employees, and Foothill Transit in West Covina, CA, is considering a similar on-site flu vaccination program.
As part of a city-wide effort, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has taken the proactive step of purchasing enough Tamiflu—a preventive and treatment medication for H1N1—for its 5,000 bus, trolley, subway, and paratransit operators.
“We are working in coordination with the other city departments and agencies in a coordinated response to the pandemic, working closely with the medical officer of health for the city of Toronto,” explained John O’Grady, TTC chief safety officer. “As part of a risk assessment of what types of municipal workers would be at the greatest risk, we asked about our bus operators, who sit in crush loads every day, and our paratransit operators, who provide service to hospitals.”
After participating in an exercise with the local health department, City Utilities in Springfield, MO, received certification as a dispensing site to dispense Tamiflu if the need arises.
Spreading the Word
A major part of flu prevention is education, and agencies have developed an array of ways to disseminate information to its passengers. Here are just a few.
Intercity Transit in Olympia, WA, created a multi-part action plan on dealing with a pandemic, explaining that widespread illness could also mean labor cutbacks among its service providers and suppliers. The system has designated a communication manager who will work with senior management to provide up-to-date information to employees and riders alike.
In addition to its other efforts, CamTran is posting information on ways to avoid contagion, such as sneezing into one’s elbow if a tissue is not available and washing hands frequently. “In all my life, I never thought I’d be telling people how to wash their hands or blow their noses correctly,” Lucey-Noll said.
The San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District in Oakland, CA, is preparing to post flu prevention tips in its rail cars and stations. Future plans include an informative handout and brief health-related messages on the agency’s Destination Sign System.
RTC is partnering with the county health department on pandemic flu preparedness. RTC will post the health department’s “cover, stay home, and wash” hygiene messages in available advertising space.
Chatham Area Transit in Savannah, GA, is disseminating flu prevention flyers on board its entire bus fleet.
CDC: What You Can Do to Stay Healthy
Because the flu is thought to spread mainly person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of infected people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists several steps everyone can take every day to stay healthy:
* Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
* Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hands cleaners are also effective.
* Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.
* Stay home if you get sick. CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
* Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds, and other social distancing measures.
* Find healthy ways to deal with stress and anxiety.
* Call 1-800-CDC-INFO for more information.