HT gets briefed on disaster management

In light of the recent toxic train derailment in Palestine, Ohio, the Hopewell Township Office of Emergency Management (OEM) coordinator, David Berez, recently briefed the Township Committee on planning and preparations for a disaster in the Township.

“There is a plan for emergency response and please be comfortable we know what we are doing,” Berez told Committee members.

Since 1990, there have been 54,539 train derailments in the US. That number has been reduced with better preparedness and new safety measures, Berez said. The average number of derailments is down to around 1,000 a year. The fatality rate for derailments is low, with an average of about four deaths per year.

A derailment is less likely in Hopewell Township than in other places, like Palestine, according to Berez.“Most dangerous are the curves.,” he said. “The track is straight and slow going though town.” In fact, Berez said, he is unaware of any derailment ever in the Township. Even so, it’s important to plan and prepare for the possibility.

Berez said the OEM for the township coordinates its planning for an emergency response with the State, County, and CSX, which owns the freight rail line that runs from West Trenton through the Township as well as Pennington and Hopewell Boroughs into Somerset County.

The trains cary a wide variety of cargo, including some classified as hazardous or toxic, such as aniline hydrochloride. “The stuff these trains are carrying can be pretty toxic but they do have up to date rail cars with safe guards,” Berez said.

Volunteers with fire and emergency services responders in the Township undergo specific training by the State through fire academy that includes multi-level certification.

The OEM coordinates emergency operations planning with Ewing, the Boroughs and the Township using the FEMA “whole community” approach ands developed a “hazard Specific Incident Action Plan” as well as a separate response planning document from CSX. The plans include “tactical response resources” such as GIS real-time mapping, cargo specific actions, and working with with Trenton Fire Department. Which is the closest HazMat 1 team in the area. 

“Communication is critical” in the execution of the of the response, Berez said, and includes reaching out to the community by social media and other means. First steps would include setting a perimeter and closing roads that might be affected.

“Train derailments can be a little scary to people,” Mayor Michael Ruger said. “What should be my first concern (if disaster strikes)?”

Families should also have some sort of preparedness plan in place for any number of emergencies, Berez said. The plan should include an emergency supply kit, a plan for communicating with family and loved ones, financial resources (including cash), and ensuring tech readiness (especially keeping cell phones charged). Most important, people should stay clear of any derailment. 

“Don’t come check it out. Wait for information,” Berez said, “I might take my family away and wait for an all clear.”

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