LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — As questions mount after the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, rail safety is at the top of the country’s mind, especially because a lot of freight train traffic flows through the Midstate.
Although there is no way to control what comes across the nearly 135 miles of train lines, the Ohio disaster has sparked a critical, local conversation.
“What happens when it occurs between the border between Manheim Township and Lancaster City? Or between Manheim Township and Warwick Township? Now you have an event affecting both municipalities and they may have differing opinions on what the best course of action is,” said Ben Herskowitz, chief of the hazmat team in Lancaster.
The Lancaster County Emergency Management Agency is constantly preparing for situations like the Ohio train derailment, training local responders and emergency services on the many “what ifs.”
“What if we are worried about the air quality because the wind is blowing this way but you’re worried about the water quality because what we do affects what you do,” Ben Herskowitz said.
The county already has a plan in place in the event of such a disaster.
“A plan isn’t something you write once and are done with. We constantly have to go through and update,” Herskowitz said.
Herskowitz says the train derailment in East Palestine holds lessons for all of us.
“We can’t predict all the things that will happen, but the act of talking to the fire company, ‘How much foam do you carry?’ and writing it down,” Herskowitz said.
Lancaster County is not immune to railroad accidents. They have happened before in the county.
There were three serious ones in the last two decades, including one involving an acid leak in Marietta, forcing the evacuation of part of the town.
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“How do we communicate with those folks? Do we have radios that can communicate with the hazmat team we bring in from York? Can we talk to the folks in Maryland?” he said.
The emergency management team trains at least twice a month in Lancaster County because they say being prepared for any situation gives them the upper hand.