Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Real Investigators: The National Transportation Safety Board

For many years I've marvelled at the calm, thorough, and diligent professionalism of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) accident investigators. Unlike investigators for some law enforcement agencies, NTSB investigators and their administrators do not allow themselves to be hurried into making politically expendient findings and premature public comments.

"The NTSB is an independent Federal agency charged by Congress with investigating every civil aviation accident in the United States and significant accidents in the other modes of transportation -- railroad, highway, marine and pipeline -- and issuing safety recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents. The Safety Board determines the probable cause of:

  • all U.S. civil aviation accidents and certain public-use aircraft accidents;
    selected highway accidents;
  • railroad accidents involving passenger trains or any train accident that results in at least one fatality or major property damage;
  • major marine accidents and any marine accident involving a public and a nonpublic vessel;
  • pipeline accidents involving a fatality or substantial property damage;
  • releases of hazardous materials in all forms of transportation; and
  • selected transportation accidents that involve problems of a recurring nature.
Since its inception in 1967, the NTSB has investigated more than 124,000 aviation accidents and over 10,000 surface transportation accidents. In so doing, it has become one of the world's premier accident investigation agencies. On call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, NTSB investigators travel throughout the country and to every corner of the world to investigate significant accidents and develop factual records and safety recommendations. "

"When the NTSB is notified of a major accident, it launches a “Go Team,” which varies in size depending on the severity of the accident and the complexity of the issues involved. The team may consist of experts in as many as 14 different specialties, coordinated by the investigator-in-charge. Each expert manages a group of other specialists from government agencies and industry in collecting the facts and determining the conditions and circumstances surrounding the accident. The investigative groups formed vary, depending on the nature of the accident, and may look into areas such as structures, systems, powerplants, human performance, fire and explosion, meteorology, radar data, event recorders, and witness statements, among others. After an investigation is completed, a detailed narrative report is prepared that analyzes the investigative record and identifies the probable cause of the accident."

To better understand the NTSB'S role and responsibilities as investigators, see The Investigative Process on the NTSB's website. Readers interested in aviation incident investigations can also review the NTSB's Major Investigations Manual, its Appendices, and interesting information about cockpit voice recorders (CVR) and flight data recorders (FDR) at the web page entitled Investigation Guides and Procedures.

Recognizing that a major transportation accident investigated by the NTSB will very likely generate news media interest, the NTSB website has a page entitled Resources for Journalists designed to assist journalists covering the initial phases of an NTSB investigation.

Often local public safety first responders are first on the scene of a major transportation incident that will be investigated by the NTSB. To assist first responders in preparing to interact as smoothly as possible with an NTSB Go Team at an aircraft incident, the NTSB has published a brochure entitled Responding to an Aircraft Accident - How to Support the NTSB - A Guide for Police and Public Safety Personnel.

**NOTE: Material enclosed in quotation marks is copied directly from the NTSB website.


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