The Best Offense: Communities Practice for Potential Train Disasters

Before memories of recent rail tragedies fade, some communities are girding themselves for the future by making disaster preparedness a top priority. By addressing inadequate response capabilities and lack of planning before crashes occur, communities hope to minimize damage from accidents that cannot be prevented. Such exercises include mock train-crash training in places like Marshfield, California, where emergency crews staged a fake train accident to practice their response to such a situation.

Practice makes perfect

In the mock accident scenario in Marshfield, a school bus collided with a runaway train, resulting in an unidentified chemical release. The scenario was designed to practice emergency scene assessments and planning in a disaster’s immediate aftermath. Overall, the exercise was a success, yielding important data and giving emergency workers an opportunity to practice their response without the risk of actual casualties.

Community cooperation

In another exercise in Le Mars, Iowa, police and fire-rescue departments coordinated with the Union Pacific railroad and Wells Enterprises, which is the largest local employer. Similar to the Marshfield exercise, the Le Mars operation envisioned a train–motor vehicle collision involving escaped propane. Earlier during the summer of 2013, Minnesotans from the National Guard and various local agencies and hospitals rehearsed a train-derailment disaster response in a scenario staged near Little Falls. This exercise helped local residents plan military-civilian cooperation in the event of a large-scale disaster.

Almost like the real thing

While mock accidents in the United States tend to involve more theoretical scenarios, safety officials in places like England stage exercises that are designed to feel as real as possible. For example, Lincolnshire’s yearly train-crash simulation involves a massive multiday re-creation with hundreds of first responders and victims played by real-life amputees made up to appear injured. Officials believe the realism improves assessments of the efficacy of emergency workers in actual accidents.

Unfortunately, the ultimate test only comes when real-life disasters occur, and these frequently leave victims with a lifetime of pain. It’s in the best interests of those injured in such accidents to turn to legal representatives for help with seeking the compensation they may require.

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