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TTC Strengthens HazMat Emergency Response Nationwide

TTC Strengthens HazMat Emergency Response Nationwide

I recently blogged about a new fleet of Amtrak locomotives being tested at the Transportation Technology Center, (TTC) in Colorado – today I’m here to tell you how this same center is training first responders to respond to a rail accident involving hazardous materials.

The Security and Emergency Response Training Center (SERTC), housed at TTC, has trained more than 50,000 men and women since it opened in 1985. Today, in addition to serving the transportation industry, SERTC trains the public safety officials from local communities, the chemical industry, government agencies, and emergency response contractors from all over the world.  In fact, there’s nowhere else in the nation where emergency responders can receive such extensive, hands-on, realistic training to prepare for a rail accident involving tank cars carrying hazardous materials. 

Photo of person in hazmat suit working

Training programs at SERTC are often hosted by freight railroads, which invite members of emergency response teams based throughout their corridors. For five days, they get to work with highly qualified staff such as Director Mike Cook, a retired federal agent who has decades of experience in both HazMat response and counterterrorism.  Mike’s staff, he notes, has more than 400 combined years of emergency response experience.

The staff’s motto is Train Today for a Safe Tomorrow.  As Mike puts it, “Your best odds for success are good training.”

Photo of Student working on tank cars

Students start in the classroom, where they’re required to pass written tests to graduate.  And over the course of the five days, students go from working on actual tank cars to applying everything they’ve learned to a simulated full-scale emergency. In the end, students are vastly more prepared and ready to respond to an accident.  One emergency responder from Alaska, for example, found himself responding to an accident – in this case a highway cargo tank rollover – just a week after attending the program, and said that SERTC provided him with “exactly what was needed to respond.”

Transporting hazardous materials by rail is extremely safe.  Out of 2.2 million domestic shipments of hazardous materials by rail in 2011, less than a fraction of one percent resulted in any type of release.  Last year was also the safest in the industry’s history, and we’re building on that success by continuing to work with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to improve the safe transportation of hazardous materials by rail.

But in the rare event of an accident, it’s absolutely critical to have highly trained people on the ground to both contain and reduce its effects.  And at TTC, we are protecting the public by making that training a reality.

Joe Szabo is the Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration

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