Draft Editorial Synopsis
50 Years of the National Transportation Safety Board
Since the NTSB was established in 1967 as an independent agency within the Department of Transportation, it has had the responsibility of investigating all U.S. civil aviation accidents and select highway, rail, marine, and pipeline accidents, with the aim of determining the likely causes and developing safety recommendations based on their findings. While the NTSB has seen organizational changes over the years – from becoming an agency separate from the DOT in 1974 to taking on new responsibilities – its duty to investigate transportation accidents has remained constant. This article will explore how and why the NTSB was originally established, how it has changed through the decades, and how it has continued to work to determine the causes of transportation accidents and make recommendations to ensure that such accidents don’t happen again.
A five-person board oversees the NTSB, with each member nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate to serve five-year terms. Additionally, 13 offices within the agency play important parts in ensuring the NTSB efficiently and effectively carries out its mission. This feature will provide short descriptions of the different components that make up the NTSB organization.
For the NTSB, improving transportation safety is paramount. This article will follow the process of how the NTSB formulates safety recommendations – through accident investigations, safety studies, and special investigations – and how it then disseminates those recommendations to raise awareness and effect change, starting with direct communication of recommendations to those involved in transportation accidents. The piece will examine other ways that NTSB strives to spread safety information, including its Spotlight publication, its Safety Alerts materials, its archive of online accessible safety recommendations, and its social media efforts. The piece will pay special attention to the NTSB’s Most Wanted List of safety advocacy priorities.
NTSB personnel investigate about 2,500 accidents per year (2,000 aviation, 500 other transportation modes), and each investigation follows a set process. This article will describe each step of that process – from Go Team launch and on-scene investigation to post on-scene investigation, technical review, report development, report reviews, and final report. The piece will also discuss “the party system,” or who NTSB works with in the course of its investigations, such as other transportation-related agencies, federal or state agencies, law enforcement agencies, etc.
- Sidebar 1: Laboratories and Technology: This piece will take a look at the facilities and technology used by NTSB for safety studies and investigations, including small unmanned aerial systems, computational and visualization technology, scanning electron microscopes, and tools to extract and analyze data from “black box” recorders.
- Sidebar 2: A wealth of information pertaining to NTSB’s accident investigations are available online. This sidebar will quickly highlight what this information is – accident dockets, accident reports, databases, publications, etc. – and where it can be accessed.
The passage of the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act in 1996 assigned the NTSB the responsibility of coordinating federal resources to assist families of aviation accident victims, a role that has since been expanded to include accidents in other transportation modes on a case-by-case basis. The NTSB’s Transportation Disaster Assistance Division (TDA) handles this responsibility, providing information and assistance for family members and friends of accident victims and survivors in the immediate aftermath of an accident and in the months and years following. This article will explain how and when TDA provides assistance (the legislative acts that require NTSB to respond), as well as what TDA’s assistance entails, including establishing a family assistance center; providing accident and investigation info to family, friends, and survivors on scene and through the rest of the investigation; crisis counseling; victim identification; personal effects management; communicating with foreign governments; serving as an information resource for planners and emergency managers; and providing disaster response training courses for public safety and law enforcement personnel. The article will highlight the fact that TDA coordinates with outside groups and agencies such as the Departments of State, Homeland Security, and Defense; FBI; HHS; American Red Cross; public safety and law enforcement personnel; and volunteer agencies to provide support and assistance.
One of the NTSB’s lesser known functions is to serve as a fair and objective court of appeals for airmen, aircraft mechanics, certificated aviation-related companies, and mariners whose licenses have been suspended or revoked by the FAA or Coast Guard. This feature will explore how this process works and how this responsibility ties into the NTSB mission to improve transportation safety.
The NTSB Training Center
Through the NTSB Training Center, the NTSB provides training on accident investigation techniques not only to its own investigative personnel, but also to others in the transportation and emergency response communities. This article will describe the types of courses offered at the Training Center, who teaches those courses, and who participates in that training, and will give some details about the Training Center facility, such as the partial reconstruction of the wreckage of TWA Flight 800 located there for training purposes.
The Road Ahead
Having reached its 50th anniversary milestone, it’s only natural to think about what the next 50 years may hold for the NTSB. This article will look at the goals NTSB has set for itself and how it plans to achieve them, as well as the challenges it faces as it continues its work to improve transportation safety.