MIDDLEBURG HEIGHTS, Ohio – The train that derailed while transporting hazardous materials through East Palestine created a horrible community and environmental disaster, and many people can’t help but wonder if it could happen here.
With many trains running daily through their city, Middleburg Heights residents expressed concern, so Fire Chief Briant Galgas appeared before the Safety Committee on March 13. He explained city protocols for addressing such emergencies and made it clear every accident and emergent situation is unique.
“Unless we know specifically what we’re dealing with (at a potentially hazardous scene), I have no way of telling you exactly how we’re going to respond,” Galgas stressed to the committee, noting East Palestine is located in a more open, rural setting, as opposed to the density of buildings and people in Middleburg Heights.
“We have a different rail system and … they’re bringing in different materials and going at different speeds. It would be a different event here.”
Public Service Director Jim Herron said frequent local rail carrier CSX “is not a hazardous cargo line though the center of town.” It was a Norfolk Southern train that derailed in East Palestine.
“The local response would be similar, building up to the regional, county and state response, but the actual needs of the event here would be completely different,” Galgas said.
As many as 30 agencies at various government levels could become involved, from an initial appearance at the scene, to cleanup and long-term support. For Middleburg Heights, some of them include Southwest Emergency Response Team (S.E.R.T.), the National Guard, Ohio Task Force 1, HazMat Type 1, Cuyahoga Emergency Communications System, Cleveland Metroparks, Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and mutual aid from adjacent municipalities.
The Middleburg Heights Operations Plan is up to date, Galgas said, and includes an evacuation plan and building emergency plans. In addition, Cuyahoga County has an overall Emergency Operations Plan, as well as an All Hazards Mitigation Plan.
Galgas emphasized the most critical communications tool for residents during a disaster is the CodeRED emergency notification system. It operates as part of the Cuyahoga County ReadyNotify system. Registration for the free service is available on the Middleburg Heights website.
“You’ve got to get all the players (i.e. emergency services and agencies) up and operating,” he said. “Then you have to make that ultimate decision of whether to shelter in place or evacuate people.”
Residents also should have a plan that includes documents, medications and other personal items they would need to pack quickly in case of evacuation. An alternate place to stay should also be determined.
“You need to be able to operate outside your home for possibly 48 hours, or even longer,” he said. “And maybe check on others, such as an elderly neighbor who can use your help.
“Make sure you’re enabling alerts on your phones,” Galgas added. “The most important thing is to start listening. That is the way a community communicates with its residents.”
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