Carbon agencies gather for disaster preparation
Local, state and federal agencies gather at the Carbon County Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday for a disaster tabletop exercise. AMY MILLER/TIMES NEWS
Preparedness is key when disaster strikes.
On Tuesday, approximately 40 local, county, state and federal agencies gathered at the Carbon County Emergency Management Agency to complete an exercise that would bring everyone to the table in the event of a major disaster in a highly trafficked recreational area that has limited access points.
The scenario for the exercise, hosted by the Northeast Pennsylvania Regional Counter Terrorism Task Force and Carbon County Emergency Management Agency and put on by A6A Associates of Monroe County, included a freight train carrying liquefied petroleum and a passenger train with approximately 150 people colliding in Lehigh Gorge State Park and parts of the train falling into the Lehigh River, causing a potential chemical spill in the water.
Retired state trooper Lt. Col. Robert G. Werts of the Northeast Pennsylvania Regional Counter Terrorism Task Force, said that the training “was necessary to bring all these people together to handle a really bad incident.”
“We tried to complicate the situation as much as we can so first responders know what they are going to do and have a good idea of what other responders are going to do in this type of situation.
“It eliminates duplication and it makes the process go a lot easier if you talk through these things first,” he added.
With the type of terrain in Lehigh Gorge State Park, responders are also preparing with what type of rescue and response would work best.
He said drones and helicopters work well to give a first visual based on the location between Glen Onoko and Penn Haven Junction, but then trucks and walking in will work best.
Mark Nalesnik, director of the Carbon County EMA, said this exercise is bringing all four levels of government together, something that is very rare ahead of a massive disaster.
“We presented with this scenario because this can happen,” he said. “This isn’t an unrealistic situation that is never going to happen. It can happen.
“This allowed us to gather all the people who would respond. They all need to know how they are going to gather, how to work together, where to work together and who is responsible for what and we have the people here to get that done.
“The place to be exchanging business cards isn’t at the incident,” Nalesnik continued. “It’s things like this that get us all to meet each other. They’re all talking and getting to know each other. We’re building relationships before anything happens.”
Adam Christmann, CEO of A6A Associates, oversaw the exercise and outlined as many aspects of a disaster as possible to provide as much education to the agencies in attendance.
He said that the exercise covered things from the environmental impact to the human toll to law enforcement investigations.
“Any disaster is difficult on responders,” he said. “This is a great opportunity for them to work together.”
Responders talked through a number of ways to respond to the crash, including figuring out how to access the site, where to set up command posts and triage, how to transport people on the passenger train cars out of the gorge, the necessary response to minimize a chemical spill in the river if it happens and more.
Agencies at the table included the Pennsylvania Environmental Protection Agency; Department of Health; Rapid Response; American Red Cross; Lehigh Valley Health Network; Lehighton Ambulance; Pennsylvania State Police; Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway; the FBI; Carbon County 911, coroner and Emergency Management Agency; Jim Thorpe Police, Jim Thorpe and Lehigh and Lausanne fire companies, EMS, Jim Thorpe EMA, Lehigh Gorge State Park rangers, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Lehigh County EMA, Norfolk Southern Railroad, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and United States Army Corps of Engineers.