• Derailed train was nearly a disaster

  • The accident earlier this month was bad enough.

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  • The accident earlier this month was bad enough.
    A train derails in the middle of the night, on a holiday weekend no less.
    A tanker car full of toluene explodes. A tanker car full of animal fat burns, and others are in danger. A mile away, another train strikes a pickup truck – not related, as it turns out, but one more thing for emergency managers to track. Then 2,700 people in the area lose power when a car takes out a light pole.
    As all of those events unfolded in the early hours of July 3, local emergency managers rolled into action. What didn’t happen also greatly concerned them, and they hashed out some of that on Friday at their monthly gathering to share ideas.
    “Luckily, as it was, the wind was out of the right direction,” said Mark Widner, Independence emergency preparedness manager.
    The accident happened on the BNSF tracks in Sugar Creek, just north of the old BP refinery, when a train derailed and the car with toluene “basically blew up,” as Widner termed it.
    One danger on officials’ minds was airborne toxins that would force either an evacuation or an order for people to “shelter in place,” that is, stay in their homes and out of harm’s way for an extended time.
    As Widner headed in to the city/county emergency operations center around 3 a.m., he had already contacted the National Weather Service, which quickly generated a model to predict where a plume of dangerous gases might go.
    Evacuation would have meant clearing workers out of a sewer plant and a water treatment plant – and that means an automatic boil order. That can effectively close restaurants, for example, for days. Independence sells water to other cities, so a boil order’s impact would spread.
    “Which means, all of a sudden you’ve got 300,000 in Eastern Jackson County who are affected,” said Mike Curry, Jackson County’s emergency preparedness director. That pocket of 2,700 without power – in the middle of the night – would make it that much harder to get the word out.
    Curry called it “the perfect storm.”
    “It’s amazing how it affects so many things you don’t think of,” he said.
    An east wind – not north – kept things from getting worse.
    Widner said Sugar Creek police and other responders stayed on top of things and handled the incident well.
    “The coordination was great,” he said.
    Officials at Friday’s meeting again stressed the importance of knowing each others’ plans, assets and likely emergency needs – from fire and police departments to schools to utilities – and the importance of maintaining good, first-name-basis relationships among officials who have to roll into action on a moment’s notice and coordinate their efforts.
    Page 2 of 2 - “That’s exactly why we have these meetings,” Curry said.

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