Few derailments rise to the level of what happened in East Palestine, Ohio in February 2023. That said, train derailments themselves are quite common in the United States. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, the U.S. averages more than three derailments per day. There were a total of 1,164 derailments in 2022—which is actually an improvement: in 1988, the U.S. averaged twice as many daily derailments. A decade earlier, in 1978, the U.S. averaged 30 or more derailments each day.
But even at those extraordinary 1978 levels, with dozens of railroad incidents daily, most of America’s roughly 30,000 communities never had any sort of railroad accident to contend with, let alone a hazardous materials release like the one in East Palestine.
According to FAAC’s public safety business manager, Bill Martin, events like the February derailment of Norfolk Southern train 32N in Ohio are the definition of a low-frequency/high-impact event:
“These are the hardest sorts of situations for emergency responders to prepare to handle. Firefighters might use an acquired building or donated vehicle for a full-scale or multi-agency training on those sorts of emergencies. But it’s obviously impractical to wreck a train for training purposes, and difficult to create a meaningful training exercise that’s both safe and captures even a few aspects of such hazmat emergencies, let alone the magnitude of an event like this.”
Emergency simulation training using modern immersive technology allows you to emulate these complex events while modeling the unique circumstances that may arise in your community. Additionally, the flexibility of such platforms significantly reduces the burden (and cost) of scheduling and running a multi-unit, multi-agency, or multi-jurisdictional training exercise.
Improving Technology Increases the Depth and Accuracy of Emergency Situation Simulation Training
“For years,” Bill Martin notes, “we’ve included scenarios for these sorts of rail hazmat events in our simulators, fairly major ones. These have always focused on giving first responders a safe environment for training on core skills: arriving at the scene, assessing the severity of the incident, identifying the materials and if any are hazardous, and maintaining situational awareness. A big part of the challenge when you respond to a potential hazmat railroad emergency is that these can be very rapidly evolving situations.”
As technology has continued to improve, FAAC has continuously made these emergency response training scenarios richer and more meaningful. This doesn’t just mean better modeling of fire characteristics and weather conditions, but also greater depth and complexity within the scenario itself. This allows for training that addresses the unique challenges that current rail infrastructure poses for both transportation and public safety.
The latest version of FAAC’s InCommand simulation solution represents the culmination of developments in simulation-based emergency response training solutions.
“Every scenario you run within InCommand is completely customizable,” Bill explains. “You can create different sizes of spill, with fire or no fire, explosions, vapors, fumes, smoke, all flowing or blowing in various ways, even toward residential areas or other sensitive locations. You can have different materials, hazardous and non-hazardous materials, with and without spills, different chemicals, different number of rail cars, different environments—urban, rural, residential, and so on. You can control the severity or the amount of destruction, any levels of destruction. There can be bystanders, injuries, people wandering into the scene, other agencies arriving. You can create the event and magnify it as much as you need to in order to give your responders the proper experience and preparation.”
Improving Railroad and Transportation Emergency Response Preparedness
Because inCommand is part of FAAC’s Continuum of Training products, responders have a unique opportunity to improve vital “soft-skills”: coordination and communication between teams, individual situational awareness, command handoffs, properly positioning vehicles, and more.
Contact FAAC today to learn more about how existing simulation-based training solutions can model your worst case scenario and prepare your responders to meet those challenges.