On Sunday, September 27, 2009, The Washington Post ran this headline on its front page: “Sandwiching Older Metro Cars Was PR Move.”
The headline referred to the Washington Metro officials’ move to sandwich older rail cars between newer, more sturdy, rail cars in response to this summer’s subway crash that killed nine people. The older cars being sandwiched are similar to the one that was crushed in the crash.
Metro officials said the move was to improve safety, but as the Post reports, the practice was not based on engineering analysis. The initiative was called “PR”. In a letter to the Tri-State Oversight Committee, Metro Safety official Alexa Dupigny-Samuels said the Metro repositioned the cars “to provide an added level of reassurance” but did not cite any scientific support for the move.
The Post said that subsequently, the Committee concluded the move was “purely a public relations effort.”
It’s obvious neither the Metro nor the Committee knows what PR is. What the Metro did was a stunt, not PR. The Metro needed to take methodical steps to study what went wrong and fix it, making rail cars and all aspects of subway usage safe. Professional public relations management would have kept all publics informed during the process.
Finally, once the problem was fixed for good, then the Metro should have shared the information with key publics. If the Metro wanted to “provide an added level of reassurance”, then fixing the problem that led to the crash and keeping publics informed of progress was the reassurance sorely needed.