Business continuity plans keep Metrolinx service on track

  • 27 May 2020

Commuter buses and trains continue to bring essential workers to their frontline jobs in Canada’s Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, as the community faces COVID-19. The regional transit agency, Metrolinx, has a culture of business continuity planning that’s been sharpened through the SARS and H1N1 outbreaks, the power blackout of 2003 and recent blockade protests along Canadian rail lines.

Its Business Continuity Office (BCO), under the leadership of Senior Manager Vito Mangialardi, ensures that all business units have contingency plans that are regularly reviewed, maintained and stress tested through scenario-based exercises.

With business continuity responsibility dispersed through the whole organization, Metrolinx was well positioned to address the challenges of COVID-19 earlier than most.

The BCO started sending out bulletins and engaging with Business Continuity Plan Leads across the organization in January, to ensure that people in all areas of Metrolinx were prepared to navigate through the impending challenges of the virus. Metrolinx’s Incident Command Team first stood up on January 24.

The early action helped Metrolinx adapt established business continuity plans to meet the unique challenges of this pandemic.

Daily video conferences brought together business leads from different parts of the organization to compare notes and share best practices. “The challenges of COVID-19 have broken down barriers and been a strong catalyst in reinforcing the benefits of cross collaboration, which enabled Metrolinx to respond with agility,” said Shannon Colquhoun, Senior Advisor, Business Continuity. “We truly are stronger together!”

At the Network Operations Centre (NOC), the nerve centre for day-to-day dispatching and coordinating of the Metrolinx network, integration was vital for maintaining consistency in responses to events in the pandemic.

“When a COVID-19 event occurs within the Metrolinx network the NOC coordinates a standardized approach for response and recovery across all business units,” said Doug Tuira, Senior Manager, Network Operations. “This ensures a safe and consistent approach for staff and customers.”

Throughout the pandemic the NOC has worked with the Metrolinx Incident Command Team to develop standard protocols, in alignment with Public Health direction, to protect staff and ensure a clean and safe service for customers.

The NOC also had an important implementation and communications role in COVID-related incidents and schedule changes. With ridership down, fewer trains and buses were run, allowing Metrolinx to plan for staff rotation.

The experience of working through the SARS and H1N1 pandemics led Metrolinx to begin testing disinfectant Oxifer and Aegis, a microbial treatment that remains effective on a surface for up to a year, in January. After successful tests, Metrolinx began applying these to high-touch surfaces in trains, buses, stations and garages, before the situation was officially announced as a pandemic. Applying the lessons learned from previous pandemics contributed to Metrolinx’s COVID-19 resiliency.

Other key measures included the installation of polycarbonate screens and the decommissioning of certain seats on buses to protect drivers; providing staff with hand sanitizer, Lysol wipes, nitrile gloves, and face coverings; ending cash payments; and implementation of health screening and physical distancing measures at Metrolinx facilities.

While the frontline staff kept operations running, office employees quickly adapted to working from home. Corporate Services redeployed mailroom staff to support workers spread out across the region. They scanned documents arriving by post before emailing them to recipients and dropped orientation packages at the homes of new hires.

The success of the COVID-19 response at Metrolinx has validated the importance of the organizations ongoing business continuity planning.

As the pandemic continues, the planning focus is on ramping up, with a constant focus on safety and business improvement, to give customers a sense of confidence for their next ride.

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