Tuesday morning, the various safety agencies in the area converged on the railroad tracks behind Portsmouth Cinemas for a mock disaster drill involving a train car from Norfolk Southern Railway. In the scenario, at tank car carrying chlorine, experiences a valve problem and begins slowly leaking.
It is then that a worker notices the yellowish green fog and calls 911. The rest involves Portsmouth emergency officials and officials from Norfolk Southern Railway. A smoke machine simulated the leak.
“That is the leak of the scenario. We have a tanker car that has sprung a leak of hydrous ammonia,” Larry Mullins of the Scioto County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) said. “Basically, they would look at their books that have the chemical response. Do they need personal protection for this, which they will, because this is a very dangerous chemical.”
Mullins said the chemical can dehydrate your body, can cause irritation of the throat and nose and eventually cause death. That is what the training was about. Workers approached the scene in encapsulated suits, which are difficult to operate in.
“This gives us a chance to practice under safe conditions, brings a lot of different elements together that normally don’t communicate like the railroad or Emergency Management, the fire, the police,” Mullins said. “That way you kind of get a face behind the name and then everybody can share what their capabilities are.”
The Emergency Operations Center is notified to implement population protection orders through Emergency Public Information. Red Cross and Portsmouth City health officials show how they can open a shelter at Shawnee State University and Southern Ohio Medical Center takes care of the mock victims.
One of the big participants in the event was Norfolk Southern Railway.
“They’ve got a vested interest in this too, because they want to make sure that the local people would be able to respond,” Mullins said. “They have their own responders too, but it’s going to take a team effort when a disaster like this would hit a community and this brings all the players together.”
Mullins said it is also important to find out what each agency’s weaknesses are.
“If we find something that’s got a huge hole in our plan, we need to address that and go back after this is done, when there will be a complete review of what happened, what took place, how we responded, how we can make that better,” Mullins said.
Are we prepared?
“You can never be totally prepared,” Mullins said. “I think we’ve got a leg up on the community. Our fire department I think is one of the best in Ohio, and I think that’s due to the leadership of a number of chiefs including (Portsmouth Fire Chief) Bill Raison and these guys train constantly. They have addressed a lot of different issues in the community and I think when the response time is short, they get at it and they know what they’re doing. It’s a very professionally and highly-trained fire department and the same with our police. They respond to this. They know what to do. They all work together.”
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext 1928 or on Twitter @flewisPDT.