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Local officials learn about emergency evacuation practices, develop plans

13 February 2013 No Comment


SHIPPENSBURG – It’s 9:15 a.m. on a Tuesday when Shippensburg Fire Department learns of a train derailment involving four tank cars and five intermodal cars off the tracks that cross Baltimore Road.

Contained in the intermodal cars is the hazardous material acrylonitrile. It is threatening the safety of people within a half-mile radius.

What happens next?

About 25 emergency, fire, police and local government officials gathered in the Shippensburg Area Emergency Medical Services Building Tuesday to figure out just that.

Called a “tabletop” exercise, it was the first of its kind in the Shippensburg area, said Emergency Management Coordinator Tom Moriarty.

It was not held, however, only to prepare for a train derailment. The plans developed during the exercise will help officials evacuate all or part of the Shippensburg area should a need ever arise.

During his presentation, Moriarty said these reasons can include law enforcement situations such as an active shooter, a natural gas leak, fuel spill, hazardous material accident, uncontrolled or expanding fire, and railroad accidents.

“We’re talking about something that most people in public safety are concerned about all the time at some level,” he said.

Property build-up in the community over the past 10 years has made such a plan a necessity. Moriarty noted that he is not sure some buildings are in the best location in relation to dangers that could occur.

This makes the train derailment scenario a good practice point. The rail road tracks run down the east side of town and are in close proximity to many private residences; businesses including Comcast and Schreiber Foods; and James Burd Elementary and Shippensburg Area Intermediate School.

A train derailment such as the one presented can be considered a “worst case” scenario, Moriarty said.

Moriarty and Fire Chief Randy O’Donnell, who presented the scenario, tasked attendees with developing a plan for notifying people in affected areas and evacuating them. Everyone split into groups based on their areas of expertise to decide what to do.

Members of the school group, for example, came up with a plan that included calling in buses, removing students together by classroom and, among other things, contacting parents about the situation. Moriarty added that a parental unification system that includes an identification requirement should be in place at the site children are taken to.

The local government group was the only other group to present its plan, which included establishing a command center, considering a state of emergency, notifying the water department as well as surrounding communities.
In an emergency situation it is vital that a representative from all affected jurisdictions be present in the emergency management center, Moriarty added.

“It raises a lot of questions, it raises a lot of things to do,” he said.

Before O’Donnell presented the scenario, Moriarty gave a presentation on the basics of reacting to emergencies threatening the community. He went through the responsibilities of EMS, fire, police and local government personnel, and about how an evacuation can be ordered.

It is state law thatit must be an elected official who signs an evacuation order for the community; however, if time is of the essence the fire chief, or the person immediately below him if he is not available, can call for an evacuation, Moriarty said. Residents can not be forced to evacuate though.

Moriarty noted that he may begin hosting similar exercises quarterly.

“These types of sessions are very valuable for us to interact and understand what each others’ problems are,” Mayor Bruce Hockersmith said.

Amber South can be reached at asouth@publicopinionnews.com and 262-4771.

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