Home Preparedness Train Versus Vehicle Incidents: Part 1

Train Versus Vehicle Incidents: Part 1


By Randall Hanifen
Contributor, EDM Digest

This is the first of two blog posts on train accident responses.

Train accidents require first responders to manage injured people, fatalities and hazardous materials situations. But with proper planning and coordination, responding to a train accident becomes easier and more efficient.

Planning for Train Accidents Involves Coordination by All Government Agencies

Most communities have fire, police and public works departments. Other communities might also have a dispatch center and an office of economic development.

No matter where these agencies reside within the local government structure, they all need to be a part of the planning and response for potential train accidents. Additionally, they need to be involved in any drills or exercises that focus on train accidents.

If the fire department provides emergency medical services (EMS), the fire department will be the primary response agency and will function as the incident commander. The police will help with evacuations and the public works office will set up short- and long-term traffic detours.

Similarly, the economic development office will work with local businesses to ensure they have a continuity of operations. Then they can continue their business functions and the community’s fiscal and taxation operations will not be interrupted.

The dispatch center serves as the hub of information after the first report of the accident. The center will aid the communications network become the primary source of information for the media.

Primary Elements of Planning for Train Accidents

Three elements of knowledge are essential for any rail accident: knowing the rail lines, the commodity flow study results and the speed of rail traffic. Because trains travel at high rates of speed and often carry hazardous materials, it is important to plan where the train might actually stop, not just where the accident initially occurs.

Because many suburban areas have wooded areas near the tracks to reduce noise, an accident site can be difficult and time-consuming to reach. A commodity flow study identifies potential hazards and possible hazmat releases into the local environment.

It is also important to have MARPLOT (Mapping Application for Response, Planning and Local Operational Tasks) scenarios at hand, based on prevailing weather conditions in the area.

Gathering basic information before an incident happens serves the community best during a train accident. It enhances planning for such incidents and enables first responders to cope with train accidents more seamlessly.

Randall Hanifen Dr. Hanifen serves as a shift commander at a medium-sized suburban fire department in the northern part of the Cincinnati area. Randall is the CEO/principal consultant of an emergency services consulting firm, providing analysis and solutions related to organizational structuring of fire and EMS organizations. He is the chairperson and operations manager for a county technical rescue team. from a state and national perspective, he serves as a taskforce leader for one of FEMA's urban search and rescue teams, which responds to presidential declared disasters. From an academic standpoint, Randall has a bachelor’s degree in fire administration, a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership, and a doctoral degree in business administration with a specialization in homeland security. He is the associate author of “Disaster Planning and Control” (Penwell, 2009), which provides first responders with guidance through all types of disasters.