Train derailment involving hazardous material focus of mock emergency exercise

A mock train derailment was held to practice response procedures. Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

City officials and members of several local organizations staged a mock emergency management exercise Wednesday focusing on how teams would respond in the event of a train derailment in the downtown involving a hazardous material.

The exercise, which also included a mock news conference, took place at the city’s Emergency Operations and Training Centre at Fire Station No. 12 in Byron and involved multiple local agencies, including the city, county, police, fire, EMS, London Hydro, London Transit, hospitals and the health unit.

“It’s a group, well over 100 people, from many different agencies,” said Mayor Matt Brown. “We’re dealing with real-time, mock disaster, and we’re testing ourselves to make sure that we’re responding as best we can to ensure the safety of Londoners.”

READ MORE: Oil spills from train car after derailment near Red Deer: TSB

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Brown said such exercises take place on a yearly basis, some involving actual volunteers who participate as victims in a real-world location. Last year, for example, officials held an emergency exercise at Westminster Ponds involving several hundred participants focused around a tornado hitting the city.

As part of this year’s exercise, which took place within the Emergency Operations and Training Centre, those involved were told a CP Rail train carrying the hazardous material Styrene had derailed earlier in the morning at Oxford and Talbot streets, injuring 10, one critically, and knocking out power to 126 homes nearby.

A fake PSA, one that would have been issued had the event been real, explained that Styrene had been spilt and that residents within 300 metres of the derailment were being evacuated, while those within 800 metres of Oxford and Talbot were being told to shelter in place.

READ MORE: Road closures still in place after train derailment near Rosser

“Styrene is a chemical that does travel along rail through the city,” Brown said. “It’s a chemical that has some volatility associated with it. It’s flammable, and can also create breathing issues.”

Brown said Wednesday’s exercise went well, but noted strengthening communication, both between agencies involved and with the larger public, was something to focus on.

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“Just how can we augment the excellent communication that already exists between each of our agencies and organizations, and how can we also ensure that we’re communicating with the public in a very direct way and a very open way,” Brown said. “If a real situation were to occur, every single Londoner would want to know what was going on.”

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