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Decatur city manager discusses city’s response plan for train derailments

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Decatur city manager discusses city’s response plan for train derailments

The boundaries of the city of Decatur. Source: Google Maps

Decatur, GA —  Decaturish readers asked about Decatur’s plan for dealing with a train derailment like the one in Ohio that involved a train carrying toxic chemicals.

In response to those questions, which Decaturish forwarded to the city, City Manager Andrea Arnold read a lengthy statement during the Feb. 21 City Commission meeting detailing the city’s preparedness plans and explained how the city would work with other agencies in the event of a similar disaster occurring in Decatur.

The short version is: the city has thought about this and there is a plan in place. But, Arnold added, any such derailment would be inherently “Complex and chaotic.”

Here is her full statement on the city’s plans should a derailment occur:

A train derailment would trigger the activation of the City’s Emergency Response Team and a response in accordance with the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS). The City has developed emergency response plans and communications plans that are ready to be executed in the event of an emergency. Our emergency response personnel, elected officials and management staff all have important roles to play during an emergency and we work to ensure that everyone is prepared and knows their roles.

A Unified Command will be established with the Public Safety team (Fire, Police and Public Works) and other outside agencies to include DEMA (DeKalb Emergency Management Agency), Georgia Mutual Aid Group, CSX, utility companies, etc. with the City’s Fire department leading the scene. The Fire department has a specialized Hazardous Material unit that will also respond. Decatur can, and likely would, request assistance from the DeKalb County and City of Atlanta HAZMAT units.

A basic overview of the response includes but is not limited to the following. Many of the tasks below will be conducted simultaneously.

1. Decatur Fire and Police personnel will respond to and assess the incident. DeKalb County Emergency Management Agency will be contacted. An incident command center will be established.

2. Identify chemicals and other hazards being transported.

3. Call for additional resources: DeKalb County Fire/ Emergency Management Agency, DeKalb County Police, Sheriff’s Office, MARTA, State of Georgia – GEMA.

4. Establish a secure a perimeter. The perimeter will depend on the situation. Initiate evacuation and rescue operations. Request utility shut-offs.

5. Activate Emergency Response Team.

6. Activate communications plan – we will utilize Smart 911 and other channels for communications to residents and employees. Contact local media outlets.

7. Contact key responders: CSX, EPA, EMS (Emergency Medical Services), GDOT, National Weather Service, media, area hospitals, Red Cross, etc. Situations involving the railroad will require coordination with the Federal Railroad Administration, NTSB, etc.

8. Contain and extinguish any fire. Initiate protection of storm water system.

9. Provide regular updates to the community through multiple channels.

10.  Provide information and updates to the City Schools of Decatur, Agnes Scott College, Decatur Housing Authority and other key institutions impacted by the incident.

This is not a comprehensive list but is representative of the process to manage an event involving the railroad. Much of the response depends on the type and severity of incident, hazards involved, location, weather conditions and time of day. A large-scale disaster with hazardous materials will be complex and chaotic but the City is well-prepared with the proper training, planning and expertise to respond and protect the community.

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