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News | May 9, 2007

Agencies respond as a team to Fairbanks train derailment scenario

By Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski Joint Task Force - Alaska Public Affairs

In a training exercise here May 8, local, state and federal government agencies proved they could work together, not only to the public, but to each other as well.

This cooperative effort is part of Alaska Shield/Northern Edge, the state's portion of Ardent Sentry/Northern Edge, a national level training exercise designed for multiple government and private agencies to work together in response to an emergency.

This day's scenario focused on the command, control, casualty evacuation and remediation in the wake of a train derailment. The scene was a passenger train that collided with a diesel fuel tanker, causing a massive spill, as well as 150 simulated injured people.

"The only way you can learn how to react to a situation like this is to train," said Megan Hamlin, a Fairbanks firefighter and part of the response team. "A simulation like this is the best way to learn how to actually work together without it being a dire emergency for real."

The event involved firefighters, the Alaska Railroad Corporation, military liaisons standing by in case their help was needed, and several other government agency representatives.

"We're part of the local community, so if they needed our help, we would all work together to save lives," said Army Lt. Col. Walt Stanish, the multi-service Alaskan Command medical plans and operations officer. "The military has assets that could help out in a situation like this - ambulances, aeromedical evacuation, hospitals. Part of being a good neighbor is being ready to help."

Kerre Fisher, the lead state public health controller responsible for preparing the state for public health emergencies, deemed the day's exercise a success.

"We wanted to test and evaluate our response system and ensure that different agencies could communicate with one another and get the job done - communication is vital in a situation like this," she explained. "Now we know what we would have to do in a situation like this."

Ms. Fisher went on to explain that the state has a memorandum of agreement that should they need military assets, they can request things like aeromedical evacuation to save lives. Otherwise, the governor can make a request of the Department of Defense to augment civilian agencies for things like ambulance services or even security.

She also said the particulars of the mock train collision weren't as important as the response efforts by the involved parties.

"We just want to make sure they know how to talk with one another to get the help they need," Ms. Fisher said of all involved. "They learned what they need to do to make that happen. We all need to work together, and that's the entire point of something like this."