Plumas County Office of Emergency Services hosted the first in a series of exercises today, focusing on train derailments and hazardous materials spills. Held in the town of Quincy at the Plumas County Fairgrounds, there was representation by over 23 local, state, federal agencies, private sector and public utility stakeholders.
This exercise series builds awareness and understanding of the train derailment spill and response capabilities in California. “It’s not a matter of if it’s going to happen, but when it’s going to happen,” said Battalion Chief Russ Fowler of Butte County CalFIRE. “Having all of us together before something happens gives me much more optimism.”
If you live or have visited Plumas County you know why a derailment would be cause for concern. Known for its many lakes, rivers and forests, this is one of the most beautiful regions of our state. Even the sight and sound of an occasional train traveling through the area adds a strange sense of nostalgia and beauty to this rural land. Train tracks run through acres of lush greenery, over scenic bridges and along stretches of creeks and rivers. While precautions are taken to avoid any type of derailment, it is always a good practice to prepare for the worst.
“Other than a real disaster,” said Jim Ayre, Deputy Superintendent of the California Specialized Training Institute. “This is really the only opportunity to have all the first responders and key stakeholders in the same room focusing on the same issue.”
Today’s exercise was a 4-hour discussion where participants were presented with a scenario of a train carrying oil, which derails into the Feather River Canyon. In the scenario, oil from leaking tank cars enters the river threatening fish, wildlife and water supply. The fire threatens to spread to cars in a tunnel and there is an explosion risk.
The participants openly discussed response plans to such a scenario. They identified each agencies roles and capabilities, including communications, operational coordination, and training. Jim Bailey, of the California Specialized Training Institute, moderated the session and made certain that all exercise issues were addressed.
As with any disaster, Cal OES is able to coordinate resources necessary from anywhere in the state to assist the local partners in dealing with the disaster at hand. Today’s exercise was an opportunity to get all the first responders, key players, and stakeholders in one room to review the plans that are currently in place to address an incident of this magnitude.
“Even though this exercise focused on oil, it is important to realize we are concerned about any kind of hazardous material and ready to respond,” said Tom Campbell, Cal OES Deputy Chief of Hazardous Materials Fire and Rescue Branch.