In the Know column: Douglas County has plan for train derailments
I feel this column is a great place to share information on how we prepare for all hazards, rail incidents included.
By Charlie Meyer
The train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, understandably has all of us concerned about the safety of the rail lines that move products through Douglas County. As current chair of the county board, and a longtime Alexandria volunteer firefighter when I was a little younger, I feel this column is a great place to share information on how we prepare for all hazards, rail incidents included.
First off, the county has an Emergency Operations Plan. This outlines the county’s hazards which include, as we all know, tornadoes and high winds, along with blizzards and drought. There’s also human caused incidents involving trains, pipelines, trucks and storage of chemicals. The plan details information on who is responsible for what on the day something goes wrong.
Our well-trained 911 dispatchers are likely to get the first call that something has gone wrong, and our residents and visitors might need help. Depending on where the incident is, our law enforcement will be sent to respond along with firefighters, first responders, and emergency medical services. An incident commander takes charge, and depending on the size of the situation, something called unified command will be put in place. That means there are several smart, trained, officials working together to make decisions which save lives and protect property.
In the event of an incident that involves CP rail, which is the carrier that goes through Douglas County on two lines, one north and south on the east side of the county, and one east and west through Kensington, company officials will quickly be in touch with Douglas County.
Fire chiefs, like Alexandria’s Jeff Karrow, will immediately be able to determine what materials are on the train that derailed. The conductor has a list and there’s a secured app that fire chiefs can access to get that information. Firefighters also have an emergency guidebook that lists hundreds of chemicals. It tells them the potential hazard, for example, whether it is flammable. It shares public safety guidance like evacuation or shelter-in-place recommendations. The incident commanders will then immediately work to notify people living, working, or recreating near the scene and help get them to safety.
These are the same steps that would be taken if hazardous chemicals posed a threat from a truck driving through the county or an accident occurred in a building where they were being stored.
Fire chiefs and emergency management are able to periodically request and receive information on what chemicals and products come through the county or are stored by our businesses. That information is considered security data, which makes sense so it can be kept out of the hands of people who want to use it to cause harm.
Should an incident occur in Douglas County, the Emergency Management Department would work closely with cities and townships which have supplies to set up temporary shelters. The emergency manager also works closely with the American Red Cross which has pre-approved shelter locations in area churches and a school. The Salvation Army may be contacted to provide food during the response.
If the county needs extra help during the response or the recovery phase, our staff know who to call for environmental and health concerns and anything else our residents need. The two tornado touchdowns tested our preparedness on many levels and I am confident we have good systems in place.
I would like to ask our residents and visitors to also improve their personal preparedness. Have what’s called a "go kit." It’s just a bag with a bottle of water, some snacks, a few pills of medication that you can’t go without, some food for your dog or cat, copies of a list of important contacts like your insurance agent, and a phone charger. Also, think about who you might stay with that lives a little ways out of town if you needed to. We’ll have the shelters open, but a friend or relative’s house will be more comfortable.
And, I can say for sure, me and the other commissioners will work to get you all the answers you need if we have that bad day. We sure hope we don’t, but we are as ready as we can be.
Charlie Meyer is the chair of the Douglas County Board of Commissioners. In the Know is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.