Washington (CNN)Washington passengers were stranded on board a smoke filled train car for more than 40 minutes before help arrived, according to a timeline released on Thursday by City Administrator Rashad Young.
Terror response concerns drive investigation into D.C. metro incident
The incident that happened on Monday in Washington's L'Enfant Plaza station, city officials say, was an electrical malfunction that led to one person dead and more than 80 hospitalized.
On Thursday, Mayor Muriel Bowser was vague answering a question about the response time.
"It would appear based on the calls that we received, the locations we reported to, that our fire department responded within the time frames that are customary," she said.
Many of the hundreds of commuters trapped described scenes of panic and confusion as they endured more than 40 minutes of billowing smoke filling the confined cars and were disturbed at the lack of instructions and safety information provided as they waited for evacuation. When it eventually came, the evacuation was described as "poorly managed," by longtime metro rider Lesley Lopez.
"It's disheartening because there did not appear to be an emergency plan," she said.
But the District of Columbia's director of the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency contends the response was as efficient as it could be, given the circumstances.
"We had our firefighters go down in a smoke-filled subway tunnel with 200 people on a train and all of the people coming out of the station itself," said Chris Geldart, the agency's director. "To ... do an event where we go through and do what we call a mass casualty -- assess all the folks and get 84 people transferred all in the amount time that they did it -- that's a good response."
The incident is also raising larger concerns about the nation's ability to respond to larger emergencies on subway systems, such as a terror attack. And that's a question that Geldart says security officials wrestle with everyday.
"What if we have one that is much larger and much more spread across the district? What do you do?" he said.
Indeed, subway systems have long been publicly stated targets by terrorists in cities like Washington and New York, where rail systems were targets in foiled bomb plots as recently as 2010. And according to the Government Accountability Office, 838 attacks worldwide on passenger rail systems have killed more than 1,370, between Sept. 12, 2001, to Dec. 31, 2011.
What's most alarming is that this minor incident led to what officials refer to as a "mass casualty" situation in what is arguably the most secure and prepared city when it comes to public safety.
But Geldart, who is tasked with leading a district-wide review of the emergency response to Monday's incident, said his first responders acted appropriately in the face of confusing and arduous circumstances.
But CNN has learned the National Transportation Safety Board will be holding a closed door briefing on Capitol Hill next week regarding the metro incident, after lawmakers demanded more information be released.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, released a statement saying, "Metro passengers deserve to know as soon as possible about Metro's safety protocols for this type of incident, and those answers should be provided right away."