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Speakers » Deborah Hersman

  • Chairman

  • National Transportation Safety Board

  • United States

NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman is recognized as one of the nation’s most visionary and passionate safety leaders who advocates for safety across all modes of transportation. Among her many initiatives, Chairman Hersman has focused attention and actions on distracted driving, child passenger safety, and helping accident victims and their families. She emphasizes the NTSB’s role as “the conscience and the compass of the transportation industry.”

Hersman has been the Board Member on-scene for more than 20 major transportation accidents, chaired scores of NTSB hearings, forums and events, and regularly testifies before Congress. Her leadership has created a more transparent and accountable organization by significantly increasing the quantity and quality of NTSB information available on the agency’s website, holding more public meetings to highlight safety issues, and embracing social media to communicate with stakeholders and citizens.

Hersman has overseen the timely completion of several high-profile accident investigations during her tenure as Chair, including:

  • Crash of a Colgan Air commuter airplane near Buffalo, NY in 2009
  • Collision of two Metro trains in Washington, DC in 2009
  • Crash at the Reno Air Race in 2011
  • Pipeline rupture in San Bruno, CA in 2010
  • Crash of a chartered airplane carrying Senator Ted Stevens in Aleknagik, AK in 2010


Created as an independent federal agency in 1967, the NTSB has investigated more than 132,000 accidents and made more than 13,500 safety recommendations. The NTSB is recognized internationally as a preeminent accident investigation organization. Hersman serves as the chief executive of the agency, which has 400-plus employees and an annual budget of more than $100 million.

Hersman was first appointed as a Board Member by President Bush in 2004 and reappointed to a second five-year term by President Obama. Appointed Chairman by President Obama in 2009, 2011 and 2013 with unanimous Senate confirmation votes.

Previously, Hersman was a senior advisor to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation from 1999-2004 and served as Staff Director and Senior Legislative Aide to West Virginia Congressman Bob Wise from 1992-1999. Her efforts contributed to the passage of milestone bills such as the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999, Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002, Transportation Equity Act of the 21st Century, and Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act.

Hersman received B.A. degrees in Political Science and International Studies from Virginia Tech, and an M.S. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University. She holds a commercial driver’s license (with passenger, school bus, and air brake endorsements) as well as a motorcycle endorsement.


General Session: Crisis Communication and Social Media

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigates accidents in transportation, some of the most visible events in media – and social media – today. In this presentation NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman explains the four things you must do to manage crisis communication and social media, in the age of the 24-hour news cycle and “media without the middleman.” The NTSB maintains its authoritative “brand” and assures that the right information gets out, with the right tone, conveying transparency and responsiveness – even in a world where Twitter-users document events in real time. See how.