By Randall Hanifen
Contributor, EDM Digest
This is the second of two articles on train accident responses.
Responding to train accidents creates many different potential and real hazards to responders, victims and the community. Failure to amass proper resources after the initial emergency call prevents a timely and efficient response.
Response Considerations for Incident Planning
Two fire issues related to response tie directly to incident planning; these issues are location and access. With train derailments, there could be more than one incident location and access point.
If the train is in an urban environment, for example, emergency responders might have to deal with tunnels and other limited access areas. These obstacles lengthen the time needed to reach and remove victims and get fire suppression equipment into position.
In suburban areas, bridges and woods, which separate the community from the tracks and provide a convenient sound barrier, also hamper access to an accident site.
In rural areas, first responders’ access to an incident is hampered only by the distance between the tracks and a roadway. Access to the accident site is easier, but the lack of resources in rural areas offsets this advantage.
Technology is a useful tool in locating all of the incident areas. In urban and suburban environments, helicopters and drones can expedite finding all incident locations. Also, a fire company ladder truck can be set up as an observation point.
Command and Control Require a Solid Organizational Structure
Once the accident site is located, the incident commander needs to develop an incident action plan (IAP) that addresses all concerns. The incident commander should also establish an organization chart that divides the responders into manageable organizational components.
Two possible ways to determine organizational components rely on the branch level in an Incident Command System (ICS). For instance, individual branches could be comprised of functions, such as fire, emergency medical services (EMS), hazardous materials (Hazmat) and law enforcement.
Another possible way to determine organizational components involves dividing branches into geographical areas, such as a Main St. branch and a High St. branch. This geographical method works well when events related to a train crash involve multiple cars and the distances between them.
Also, incident commanders must accommodate the presence of other organizations on the scene. A unified command structure will involve law enforcement and public works departments within a community. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will have a presence as well when the incident moves to the investigation phase.
Hazardous Materials Handling Is Also An Important Consideration
One of the biggest considerations related to train accidents is the release of hazardous materials into the environment. Because so much of the nation’s hazardous materials are transported via rail, there are many types of hazardous materials that can endanger a community.
How much hazardous materials are released into a community depends upon the size of their transportation containers. If a chlorine leak occurs in a one-ton cylinder, for example, it will likely be cleaned up in less than an hour. However, if a train tanker car is damaged in a derailment, stopping the leak and cleanup can last days and possibly weeks.
Overall, proper planning can greatly mitigate the human and environmental damage from a vehicle or train incident. But good management of the command system and hazardous material response are additional ways to ensure the best results possible.