In times of trouble and need, our country has often banded together to be of assistance; celebrities and ordinary people alike shoveled sand into bags and placed them at levees during flooding. Community-wide cleanup efforts occurred after tornadoes, hurricanes and other storms. In the terrible aftermath of 9/11, every kind of assistance that could be offered, from donating blood to bringing food and water to exhausted rescue workers, fused a hurting country and provide a sense of healing — however possible — from something completely incomprehensible.
During WWII, a small town, North Platte, Neb., coordinated an amazing volunteer effort that saw every single troop train met with coffee and sandwiches and sweets; 125 different communities gave their time and resources, sacrificing their own rations of sugar and coffee and the like. Six million soldiers were ministered to in this way, with smiles and hugs by the area wives, mothers and sisters.
These days, especially since the pandemic, have seen public participation in mass efforts for many reasons. For the few who hoarded during the early days, far more shared what they had. That spilled over into every kind of service, including city-wide compacts such as the California Statewide Transit Mutual Assistance Compact and Emergency Management Assistance Compact.
TransMAC evolved to its present form after its earliest days of discussion. It was a coordinated effort, entailing the work of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Orange County Transportation Authority and the California Emergency Management Agency, among other agencies. Since then, TransMAC now encompasses 22 transit agencies, including Metro, OCTA, SunLine Transit Authority, Anaheim Transportation Network, city of Montebello and Foothill Transit, and it serves the entire state of California.
Since inception, the deal has never been activated, according to Mike Greenwood, director of operations for Access Services and chairman of TransMAC’S board of directors. He explained, “That’s a good thing, because there’s never been an emergency big enough for one transit agency to call on another transit agency for help.”
Megan Abba, a senior communications specialist for OCTA, explained, “The Transit Mutual Assistance Compact was formed in 2013 to establish a formal process for member agencies to share resources with one another during emergencies. This might include providing buses, drivers or other needed equipment.” Abba added, “The Orange County Transportation Authority was one of the group’s founding members, with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority taking the lead.”
Abba continued, as Greenwood had said, “Fortunately, we have not had to use the compact to request assistance during any emergency to date. But the group has been beneficial throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly early on, when we were making adjustments to our transit operations to help ensure the safety of our passengers and drivers. The group met regularly to discuss how to implement safety measures, like the shields that were installed to provide a barrier between drivers and passengers. There was also sharing of resources on how to acquire materials that — because of the demand — were difficult to come by, such as plexiglas.”
The city of Pasadena wished to be included in the compact, and it was accepted unanimously. The statewide agreement established a formal process where member agencies — local governments and public transit providers — may receive and provide mutual assistance to each other in the form of personnel, services and equipment necessary during an emergency. In an agenda report for the Pasadena City Council, the department of transportation said TransMAC member agencies can coordinate response activities and share resources, even without a formal declaration of emergency. The agreement facilitates rapid and short-term deployment of emergency support — personnel, equipment, materials and services prior to, during and after an incident or pre-planned major events. A plan is always in place, and practice usually takes place before parades, festivals and concerts. This poses many challenges for emergency personnel, and coordination with other first responders and local agencies is vital in times of crisis. Indeed, the compact is modeled on mutual aid agreements used by law enforcement, fire and utilities throughout the state.
As for EMAC, Jon Gudel, public information officer at the Office of Crisis Communications and Media Relations at CalOES, explained, “That acronym stands for National Emergency Management Assistance Compact, and it, too, is a joining together of various services in times of crisis. EMAC is first and foremost a state-to-state compact.”
And a true compact it is. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency and EMAC have a long-standing agreement whereby the National Emergency Management Association, through the National Coordination Group, facilitates requests to deploy teams that coordinate EMAC activities with federal personnel wherever needed and requested by DHS and FEMA headquarters. With wildfires, flooding and other climate driven disasters, the resources have grown thin, and mutual aid is more necessary than ever before. Sharing and moving resources in state and out, and as quickly as possible, is the cornerstone of disaster response. EMAC includes all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands.
If that doesn’t sound very different from the TransMAC, “it is because it goes far beyond transit, and because it is implemented with orders from the governor’s office — California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, to be precise, or CALOES, as it’s commonly known,” said Gubel.
Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency July 23 for the entire Mariposa County, because the Oak Fire was having devastating effects — destroying homes, threatening infrastructure and requiring the evacuation of more than 3,000 residents. In just 24 hours, the Oak Fire had burned more than 11,500 acres. And within hours, a grant had been secured from FEMA to help ensure the availability of vital resources. In keeping with EMAC, California Fire and CalOES Fire and Rescue began working immediately with state, local and federal agencies; the State Operations Center coordinated the fire response, sending mutual aid and addressing emergency management needs.
Does this sound like a bowl of alphabet soup? With so many acronyms, it might, but it’s an incredibly rich, well-blended and powerful “soup.” TransMAC, EMAC and all the other agencies and services they encompass are here to help. In the words of John Wesley, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” Whether those words are ever spoken aloud by public servants and workers, they are certainly a part of their makeup.