In the wake of the attacks in London, New York police say reports of suspicious packages on mass transit systems have more than tripled in the past week. But while Americans are clearly more focused on security, little attention has been paid to what you should do if you were ever forced to escape from a subway. “Today” consumer correspondent Janice Lieberman offers some suggestions from experts on how you can get out safely.
Remain Calm and Know Your Plan
This may sound cliché and reminiscent of the Naked Gun's "Please disperse; there is nothing to see here," but it is in fact very important to have an idea of what you should do in a emergency, and to do your best to stay calm.
One of the success stories to the London attacks was the relative calm that the trapped passengers exercised while evacuating. Because the tunnels were so small in London, passengers had to walk car to car, and exit from the front and back of the trains.
One concern for subways in the United States is bottlenecks at doorways and tramplings. Experts say passengers should be familiar with where the emergency door or window release handles are. Most windows labeled EMERGENCY can be kicked out in one piece (without breaking) in the event the door release doesn't work. Experts also say to read the emergency instructions posted in cars now, while you have a chance.
Wait for Possible HelpIt is important to note that there are many hazards on the tracks, and passengers should never evacuate without instructions and assistance unless their lives are in imminent danger. You are likely safer remaining in the car, rather than evacuating. However, if there is a fire, and a major smoke condition inside the car, follow the tips below.
Every system has emergency operating procedures where the operator, police, or other first responders will coordinate an evacuation. The cars and interior ventilation systems on most modern subways will protect passengers from many elements if they remain inside.
Exit and Walk Into the WindThis is important for two reasons. First, most subway systems are designed to carry a natural air current (in addition to emergency ventilation systems). This air current is usually about 5 mph of wind, which should carry the toxins and caustic smoke from a fire away from the incident. Secondly, if you walk towards the wind, you know you are following the natural path of the tunnel, and you will wind up safely at a station.
Avoid the Third RailAlways walk down the center of the track bed (in between the two main rails). Most systems, like New York City, do have a third rail, and many riders don't know to watch out for it. The third rail will almost always be the most interior rail (or the farthest from the tunnel walls). While power will usually be cut in the event of an emergency, there is a chance that the third rail could be electrified.
Walk CarefullyMost tracks are difficult to navigate. With rail ties, debris, electrical panels and switches, walking a track is like walking a mine field. If you don't walk slowly, you will fall and could injure yourself even more. This could possibly impair your escape.
Beware of Oncoming TrainsIf you see an oncoming train, you have to immediately get to the nearest wall (while minding the third rail), and find any anchored object to hold on to tightly. An oncoming train will create a vacuum that will suck you into its path as it approaches. Many systems have railings along most of their exterior walls to help. It should be noted in a major incident, most traffic will be suspended immediately by controllers in the command center, so this is an unlikely obstacle but still one to watch out for.