There was fire. There was smoke. There was carnage. There were screams. Do not be alarmed though because it was only a drill.
About 300 fire, police and medical personnel responded to the ATK Federal Cartridge site in Anoka last Saturday morning, June 23, according to Anoka Police Chief Phillip Johanson.
When they arrived, they learned that the scenario was that a freight and passenger train derailed. Johanson said the freight train passed the passenger train on a separate track and some of its freight came loose and struck the passenger train. The collision caused both trains to derail.
There were 180 mannequins on lease from Fort McCoy, Wis. About 150 volunteers pretended to be injured or a family member or friend of a victim that just wanted answers. Therefore, while some focused on rescue and recitation, others were needed for crowd control.
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John Siqveland, public relations manager for Metro Transit, said this added an “unpredictable human element.” Some of the actors really got into the scene. They screamed at the top of their lungs in pain or anger. Some tried to run to the derailed trains, which were actually junked Metro Transit buses, and police officers had to push them back.
Added challenges were that some victims exclusively spoke Spanish or had a physical disability, according to Capt. Cary Parks of the Coon Rapids Police Department.
A.J. Olson, acting chief of the Metro Transit Police Department, said they do a full-scale exercise every year, but it is usually not as extensive as the one that took place at the ATK Federal Cartridge site. Normally there will be upright train cars sitting on the tracks and they have to pretend they are derailed. Although there were still no derailed trains last Saturday, the overturned buses added a more realistic element that was a very valuable training tool.
Decommissioned Metro Transit buses that were scrapped after the mock drill stood in as the train cars, but a Northstar engine and passenger car sat nearby on the train tracks. John Siqveland, public relations manager for Metro Transit, said emergency crews learned how to disable the electrical and fuel systems of a locomotive and they learned how to remove the windows from the outside. After the emergency drill was complete, the trains would still be operational.
If you saw a huge plume of smoke, that was from burning hay bales on a decommissioned freight car that firefighters had to extinguish. In another area of the site, a smoke machine was set up on a train to simulate a chemical leak.
Parks said the drill went well. It showed the emergency responders what areas they did well on and which areas need improvement.
Johanson said being the manager of this emergency drill was “stressful, but everything went well.”
“There’s so many things to worry about,” Johanson said. “The primary thing is safety and making it challenging to responders.”
The emergency responders and Federal Cartridge spent the past 18 months planning for this drill to make it as realistic and as safe as possible. Tim Brandt, communications and events manager for Federal Cartridge, said they had weekly meetings initially and then multiple meetings during the week as the event neared.
Federal Cartridge hosted the countywide emergency drill in 2010. Johanson said having a site like this for training is very helpful.
“We believe in community involvement and helping our first responders be ready,” said Jason Nash, spokesperson for Federal Cartridge.
Besides the drill itself, the event served as a good networking opportunity. Besides the Anoka County area fire and police departments, the Allina ambulance crews and the Metro Transit responders, there were observers from the Federal Rail Administration in attendance to observe the drill.
Olson said this was a good opportunity for people to meet each other or reconnect.
“The wrong time to exchange business cards is at an actual emergency,” Olson said.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]