News, Public Saftey

Preparing for a transport disaster, Part II: How is Hancock positioned to handle train or truck emergencies?

by Geoff Fox

Last week, The Hancock News reported on how Hancock Fire Company and Hancock Rescue Squad are prepared to respond to a train derailment or truck accident similar to recent incidents in East Palestine, Ohio, and Frederick.

In part two, we look at how the county’s emergency services would coordinate with state and local agencies to tackle a major disaster incident in Hancock.

Washington County Division of Emergency Services Operations Manager – Fire EMS Eric Jacobs said multiple units from Washington County would be called in for any kind of mass incident in Hancock.

“Understand although Company 5 and 59 are in Hancock, they are part of Washington County Emergency Services,” he said in an email.

Jacobs said units from across Washington County, such as the Haz-Mat unit that is staffed by career firefighters at Funkstown, would be called in to help local first responders.

Because train lines run through Morgan County, W.Va., any train derailment or spill incident would trigger an Incident Command System by that county. Hancock Fire Company and Rescue could be assigned a role or responsibility in the larger incident response.

“With an incident such as a train derailment, unified command will likely involve fire/rescue chief officers, Law enforcement representatives, Emergency Management representatives, State and County designees, and a host of personnel for ancillary duties,” he said.

Jacobs said if an evacuation were to be implemented for Hancock, it would be coordinated with town officials, Emergency Management, law enforcement representatives, and fire and rescue personnel if resources were available.

Social media, along with mass notification system Everbridge, would also be used to coordinate and applied for evacuation purposes, Jacobs said.

In the case of a highway tanker spill or explosion, the airport does have a crash unit that carries foam and could be alerted to respond, based on the severity.

Jacobs said this unit was also requested for the March 4 gasoline tanker explosion in Frederick.

Training for such situations are part of initial firefighting courses and, likewise, the Incident Command System is also part of the training at Chief Officer levels, Jacobs said.

“Training for these types of incidents are not common or uncommon, basics are provided and reinforced through additional courses in F/R education platform,” he said.

Local Emergency Planning Committees can coordinate drills for such incidents like these, he added.

Jacobs said generally an incident like a train derailment would require a great deal of command, control, and communications.

“Washington County, through Emergency Management, would be charged with updating the general public on potential risks and known evacuations,” he said.

Even though a state line and a river divides the rail lines from Hancock, environmental impacts could be felt in the entire area.

Jay Apperson, Deputy Director for the Office of Communications for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said the department’s Emergency Response Team would coordinate with their counterparts in West Virginia on any response through the National Incident Management System, and likely through a Unified Command process, assuming there is an impact to the waters of the Potomac and/or the State of Maryland.

Both states are participants in EPA’s Regional Response Team III (RRTIII), which is a multi-agency coordinating group ensuring effective planning, preparedness and response to oil and chemical incidents affecting human health and safety, as well as the environment.

“Through the RRT framework, we maintain an ongoing working relationship with our counterparts from within the US EPA Region III states, as well as various federal agency counterparts who have roles and responsibilities in incidents of this nature,” Apperson said in an email.

In case of a railcar spill or tanker leak, environmental testing would need to be geared toward the specific chemicals involved in an accident. Placards on trucks and rail cars show what is being carried inside them, using a code system. First responders can refer to those codes and symbols to assess quickly what’s in a tanker.

There is no testing tool that can detect every possible chemical, Apperson said.

“Additionally, the intake and treated waters of drinking water system must undergo periodic sampling,” he said.

The MDE, he added, works with the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB), through a coordinated notification system, to inform water suppliers in the Potomac basin of any spills or other events that could potentially cause contamination.

The ICPRB has a time-of-travel model for estimating when a spilled chemical would potentially reach different points on the river so that system can adjust operations and treatment accordingly, Apperson said.

There have been incidents where a chemical spill up-river on the Potomac has led to the shutdown of water intakes by town public water supplies as the substance moves downriver.

Apperson said the MDE operates a statewide air quality monitoring network, too.

Town can declare emergency

Hancock Town Manager Mike Faith said under the town’s charter, the mayor had broader powers in such a situation of an emergency like a derailment or explosion where he can declare an emergency.

“When you have an emergency situation, people need evacuated, you can’t necessarily hold a vote, you can’t go through committees and things like that,” Faith said.

If there were a run on supermarkets or gas, the mayor could put forth some means on controlling people so they wouldn’t be able to hoard things.

Faith pointed out that Hancock has its own police department and fire department, which some small municipalities do not have.

Town officials would then coordinate with those two agencies, he said.

Faith said the town could also coordinate services to residents through agencies like the Interfaith Service Coalition and others.

Faith said the town is considering holding an emergency response expo, where agencies from the county would come in and let resi-

dence know what resources are available.

Faith said Town Hall could be used as an evacuation point as there are cots available should there be a power loss and people are exposed to the heat of summer or cold of winter.

Right now, Town Hall does not have a generator, however the town is working on a grant to purchase one for the building.

The town is also in the process of coming up with a formalized plan and Faith said there might have been one in the past, but “who knows where that is now?”

Faith said the town has its website and social media pages to help with notification to residents in a possible evacuation.

There’s also a phone list for water and sewer customers, he said, “so we would try to get the word out that way.”

Without a local television station or radio station, Faith said the town could reach out to some of the groups in town like Rotary, ISC, Hancock in Motion, and have them help spread the word.

When he was a kid, Faith said he remembered the fire department being used to get the word out for what he thinks was a flood.

The town gets their water from a well that is an aquifer, which could be vulnerable in the case of a chemical spill or leak in the area.

Faith said the town could possibly have a permit to draw water from the Potomac River, as other towns do.

Should that happen, Faith said a portable filtration system could come in to assist in drawing water from the river.

There could also be a boil water requirement or limit on usage of water should that need arise.

“I can’t imagine being able to supply the town at the same level of water with that doing a system like that,” Faith said. Hancock’s public water system has two wells, which has been a priority as town officials plan for a backup source if one well can’t function.

While county, state and national resources are available to the town in case of an emergency, Hancock officials have discussed how to serve and protect local residents if those assets can’t get to the area immediately.