Be Prepared for Anything

Written by Chuck Baker, President, ASLRRA
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In 1907, Boy Scout founder Robert Baden-Powell, an English soldier, devised the Scout motto—Be Prepared. He published it in Scouting for Boys in 1908. Upon publishing the Scout motto, Baden-Powell was asked the inevitable follow-up question: Be prepared for what? “Why, for any old thing,” he answered.

Being prepared is the theme of ASLRRA’s upcoming series of regional meetings to be held in San Antonio, Tex. (Central/Pacific Region, Sept. 11-13), Columbus, Ohio (Eastern Region, Oct. 7-9), and Charlotte, N.C. (Southern Region, Nov. 11-13). The meetings will feature an effort to educate and train short line railroaders on cyber security, technology developments, crisis management and the challenges associated with natural disasters. The meetings will feature subject matter experts, with considerable time set aside for sharing best practices among short line companies, and for discussing and debating how the industry can become better prepared for these types of events.

Some of these events are new and require a lot more thinking on our part. Some are not new, but the tools to deal with them are, and we need to be willing and able to work with those tools.

Cyber security is a challenge with the potential to wreak havoc as we increasingly rely on computers and mobile devices to run and manage our companies. Our financing and record keeping, our train schedules and dispatching operations, our communication with shippers and much of what we do to ensure safety are increasingly dependent on technology. The challenge is particularly difficult because the technologies and the associated threats to them are constantly evolving in what can feel like dramatic fashion. It is imperative that we understand the technologies and keep pace with the changes.

Natural disasters, particularly weather-related ones, are not new, but are a disruptive and dangerous proposition and appear to be occurring at an increasing rate and intensity. The short line industry can do a better job at disaster recovery and resilience planning. ASLRRA is working to develop useful resources for our members on this front.

Whether it’s putting the necessary plans and procedures in place in advance, planning for routing detours or loaner equipment, quickly establishing company rates for emergency material delivery, making plans to move equipment and employees out of harm’s way, cataloguing the right contacts with relevant government agencies, working with insurance agencies before and after disasters, or understanding how to use embargos, there is much we in the short line industry can do better.

Waiting until our tracks are underwater or a bridge has washed out is not the time to begin planning. We intend to use the fall regional meetings as a platform to facilitate discussions about how the short line industry can best prepare for crisis situations, explore potential resources and share best practices for maintaining/restoring operations after disaster strikes.

Addressing the physical and human aspects of a crisis is the first and most important task. But dealing with the public relations and the inevitable politics of a crisis is also critical. Handled poorly, it can create financial and regulatory problems that linger long past the actual event. Our regional meetings will feature a variety of experts that will provide the dos and don’ts of crisis management.

And finally, the meetings will feature what we hope will be a candid and lively discussion on the appropriate use of social media and proper practices of employee conduct and interaction. Like cyber security, these are relatively new issues where standards and expectations are changing in dramatic fashion.

Before Baden-Powell wrote his Scouting for Boys handbook, he decided to try out some of his ideas on an actual group of boys. In July 1907, he took a diverse group of 21 boys to Brownsea Island in Dorsetshire, where they set up camp for a fortnight. With the aid of various instructors, he taught the boys about camping, observation, deduction, woodcraft, lifesaving, patriotism and chivalry. The lessons served as the basis for the handbook and the foundation for a remarkably successful international organization that survives to this day.

ASLRRA’s regional meetings will be held in the air-conditioned comfort of hotels rather than the pup tents of Dorsetshire, but the admonition—Be Prepared—will be the purpose and hopefully the outcome of these gatherings. I encourage all short lines, industry suppliers and anyone involved in our industry to attend one or more of these meetings. You can review the meeting agendas and register online at

Categories: Class I, Freight, Passenger, Regulatory, Short Lines & Regionals Tags: , ,