Outgoing NTSB Chief: People Expect Government to Make Traveling Safer

"People expect some things from good government, and improving standards of safety is one of them,”  Deborah Hersman said. "People expect some things from good government, and improving standards of safety is one of them,” Deborah Hersman said. Jacquelyn Martin/AP file photo

In a sometimes-emotional farewell speech, the outgoing National Transportation Safety Board chairwoman told reporters that their continued coverage of lessons from fatal accidents is vital to helping government manage risks and build safety practices into everyday routine.

Deborah Hersman, whose 10 years at the board ends April 25, told a Monday breakfast at the National Press Club in Washington that “people expect some things from good government, and improving standards of safety is one of them.”

In a review of modern-day airline tragedies, Hersman pushed for forward progress on her independent agency’s “Most Wanted List” of unimplemented safety improvements. “Yesterday’s tragic lesson is today’s safety step and tomorrow’s unacceptable risk,” she told reporters.

A key item on that list is a NTSB call dating from March 2001 for commercial airplanes to require seat restraints for passengers of all ages during takeoff and landing, turbulence and a crash scenario. “Ironically,” the list text reads, “we are required to stow our luggage, and small bags, and even the snacks and beverages served during flight, yet the Federal Aviation Administration exempts the most vulnerable passengers, children under age 2, allowing them to travel unrestrained, on an adult's lap.”

Hersman said the current-era debate over child restraints stems from the 1989 crash of United Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa, in which 111 passengers died and 185 were saved when the DC 10 plane cartwheeled during an emergency landing that put the aircraft operating on only two good engines in a cornfield. As stunned passengers roamed the fiery wreckage looking for their companions, Hersman said, a key issue that emerged was the requirement that flight attendants enforce a rule that small children be on the floor and not on parents’ laps. “We secure laptops and coffee pots, but not the most precious cargo of children,” said Hersman.

A flight attendant who survived that crash, Jan Brown Lohr, was introduced from the head table during Hersman’s speech, and the NTSB chair praised Lohr's work lobbying for new regulations requiring small children’s safety belts.

One of the heroes from that incident, Hersman continued, later said his actions to save one baby were what anyone would have done. In a long allegory, she then described a mountain kingdom in which the village elders were raised to the top in a rope basket, but where observers can see that some “ropes have frayed.”

Contrary to “social Darwinism,” Hersman said, the human brain has evolved from the cave days—when predators threatened fellow humans and food supplies—to be “wired” so that “once the rope is frayed, we can’t let it break.” The Spanish word for “sorry means ‘I feel it,’ ” she said. “That’s not just a colorful phrase but human beings at their core. We’re hardwired for empathy.”

Asking the audience to think back on their first editor or boss, she noted that most reported bad memories, “and bad memories stick,” she said. Hence from transportation tragedies come efforts to steer human behavior to “mirror” safety procedures, as defined in such tools as international safety agreements and new precautions. Journalists, she added, citing the drama of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, help keep society’s eyes on such mirrored behavior.

The past four years have seen only a “handful” of domestic aviation deaths, Hersman noted, comparing that against highways deaths that continue to average 30,000 annually. The most recent U.S. airline accident was the July 6, 2013, crash of an Asiana Boeing 777 at San Francisco International Airport that killed three. A NTSB report on that tragedy is due out the summer, Hersman said, adding her hope that the result will be new preventative steps involving pilot training and technology.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.