Tonight, Capital Metro and first responders from throughout the area will participate in an emergency drill to test our collective preparedness for dealing with a MetroRail derailment.
The scenario goes like this: A MetroRail train derails for unknown reasons on a remote section of track somewhere between Leander and Lakeline stations. Railroad dispatch is unable to reach the engineer. Calls to 9-1-1 (using a back number–not tying up the actual emergency line) begin coming in from people on the train and from people in the closest neighborhood, who have heard the accident. Some of the callers will give conflicting information about the location of the train.
So the first challenge for responders will be pinpointing the exact location of the train, and once found, determining what equipment might be needed to access the vehicle. Since the location of the accident will be in an area where many jurisdictions come together, several different groups will be participating: city of Austin, Cedar Park, Williamson County, Jollyville, Travis County and Round Rock. Who’s in charge? They’ll have to establish that, too, and then get to the task at hand of evacuating the train, treating injuries, etc.
After the drill, all the participants will have a thorough debrief to analyze the overall effectiveness of the operation and especially, what improvements could be made, in an actual emergency, that would save time, save lives, save property.
We’re required by the Federal Railroad Administration to plan and execute emergency drills, and the exercises provide incredibly valuable information regarding the specific challenges that would be faced in an actual MetroRail derailment. Interim manager of security and the coordinator of tonight’s festivities, retired Sgt. John Jones, has been planning this event for a few months with area responders.
The importance of being prepared cannot be overstated! Just last week, Mayor Lee Leffingwell convened the Capital Area Emergency & Disaster Preparedness Symposium, so various jurisdictions could come together and discuss better regional coordination and planning. The better prepared we are to deal with the unexpected, the better off we’ll be, even if we never need to enact the emergency plans.