COALDALE – “We have lots of trains that go through town and there's never [been] an incident, and we all hope that that stays the same, but hope's not a course of action.”
The comment came from the Town of Coaldale’s director of emergency management, Mark Murphy, as he led exercise ‘Broken Rail’ Thursday, Nov. 9. It simulated the release of a large quantity of dangerous goods into the community due to a train derailment.
Town staff filled a room in the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), where they practiced gathering and processing critical information, and then disseminated it to the public at large and specific institutions such as schools, hospitals and seniors’ centres.
“We want to make sure in Coaldale it's a great place to live, work and play,” said Murphy. “One of the ways we do that is making sure that public safety is foremost.
“Doing an exercise like ‘Broken Rail’ today, gives us a chance to practice some of our procedures, some of our techniques, enhance the knowledge of the staff, so that we're able to respond effectively to a large-scale emergency or disaster, and more importantly, we'll be able to recover more quickly,” he continued.
Thursday’s exercise followed a couple of set-up drills, in which staff practiced setting up the equipment in the EOC, and a table-top exercise where they talked about how they would handle a derailment.
They plan to practice the same scenario a couple more times in 2018, with Murphy saying they intend to hold a live exercise in 2019, which will include a full mock-disaster.
“As we all know, nowadays everybody has a cellphone and people are tweeting and taking pictures. We want to make sure that institutions, and our citizens of course, get the real, truthful information from our incident commander,” stated Murphy. “We don't want rumors going, we don't want the Twitter going and all these other pictures. We want people to know exactly what is happening.”
Murphy added that they want to focus on a train derailment situation, as the community already has extensive experience in dealing with natural disasters like grass fires and overland flooding.
Coaldale’s fire chief, Kevin McKeown, was the incident commander for the training session, a role he would hold in the event of a real-life disaster.
“This is not something you can just throw together and in the heat of the moment know what to do,” McKeown explained, when asked about the importance of the exercise. “It's extremely important – when a community has a disaster such as this – that you can jump into action, and people know their roles and what to do.
“We haven't had a derailment per se in the Town of Coaldale, but we do respond to a couple train incidents every year. Usually it's vehicles versus trains, so semi-trucks or vehicles trying to get through an intersection before it is safe to do so. The potential is there for a large-scale disaster at some point, but we've been lucky so far.”
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