In the first hour after the accident, Paulsboro evacuated a three-block area closest to the scene and issued a “shelter in place” order for the rest of the town. The need for County assistance played a large role in that decision, said Roemmich.
The town was pressed to find available shelter outside an expanded evacuation zone, transportation vehicles and the time to coordinate the response.
In the end, a total of nine businesses. 260 homes and 640 residents were evacuated by Unified Command.Large scale evacuations pose a challenge for smaller communities, said Jack DeAngelo, Deputy Emergency Manager of the Gloucester County Emergency Response.
“There is no municipality within Gloucester County that would be able to evacuate the entire municipality. They would have to turn to the County to get the resources,” he said.
How safe was the air?
But concerns about the vapor cloud were the biggest reason for the shelter in place order, Roemmich said.
The earliest known reading at 8:33 a.m. was in excess of 500 parts per million (ppm) of pollutants, equalling 900 ppm of vinyl chloride, Patrick Robinson, of the Paulsboro Refining Company, testified on Tuesday. A lack of coordination and recording of the early air quality readings led to confusion about the nature of the fog.
NTSB cited a 10:45 a.m. news conference in which an New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) official publicly announced that the airborne hazard had already dissipated.
Robert Van Fossen, DEP’s Director of Emergency Management testified that he did not know how that information was obtained. Van Fossen said the DEP began to develop an air quality monitoring plan around noon to determine if shelter in place was apropriate. “It was unclear to me earlier in the morning who was doing the monitoring and what results were being sent to who.”
Van Fossen went on to say that the DEP had a responder on the scene between 8:30 and 9 a.m. who had a photoionization detector, but the limited amount of sampling he did was only to ensure his own safety and not part of any official monitoring plan. The reading then was 16 ppm, Van Fossen said. It wasn’t until 2 p.m. until the DEP’s air monitoring plan was fully implemented.
Some of the delay could have been mitigated if Conrail had immediately notified DEP, stated Van Fossen, who testified that he officially received notification at 9 a.m., but received cell phone calls concerning the accident 45 minutes earlier from other parties.
Tuesday, the NTSB questioned Conrail as to why there was a two-hour notification delay.
“I realize there was a breach. My control center was told to make appropriate coordinations. When he got to do it, I cannot speak for the gentleman who made that call, ” responded Neil Ferrone, Conrail’s Chief Risk Officer.Coast Guard Captain Kathleen Moore also confirmed that she did not have air quality reading reports when she arrived on site at 1 p.m. “I did know that people were in the field with instruments, but I never got any data from them.”
Early plume models were available and shared by 2 p.m. Moore said Unified Command eventually had seven stationary air monitoring stations and 16 people in the field to give readings on street adjacent to the accident. A sensitive action threshold was established for employees of 1ppm for 10 minutes.
Around 100 people sought medical attention in area hospitals, said Joe Elderidge, of the New Jersey Department of Health. Not included in the count were Conrail or Coast Guard employees.
Elderidge told NTSB that the data collected from health surveys distributed through-out the community and first responders, including those who went to the hospital would be available by early autumn.
Conrail declined to provide the NTSB with information regarding the testing of employees who were exposed to the vapor cloud, citing need to maintain medical privacy despite a suggestion to substitute numbers in place of employee names.
At the time of the derailment, the certification of Paulsboro’s emergency response plan was more than two years past its expiration date of July 31, 2010. The last review and four-year certification took place in 2006.
“Yes, I was aware it should have been rectified. People in the municipal government said that it was due for revision and nothing occurred,” Roemmich admitted.
There are 268 local emergency response plans, that are reviewed and certified by the county.
Everington said the OEM has taken corrective action to ensure an increased compliance rate. A letter now goes out to municipalities 90 days in advance of expiration dates and one is sent out upon expiration.
Paulsboro’s emergency response plan has since been re-certified in the wake of the accident.
Royall said the IAFC recognizes a need for a national repository of data concerning HAZMAT responses and has implemented a HAZMAT Fusion Center initiative modeled after the National Fire Fighter Near-Miss reporting system.
Now that the hearings are complete, the NTSB will continue its fact-finding investigation and analysis. Afterwards, the organization will issue a report identifying the probable cause for the accident and its recommendations on how to prevent situations like the Paulsboro derailment, which the majority of time are faced by a volunteer response team.
“What we heard in the last two days was an amazing story of volunteers, people who put their lives in the line everyday for us,” concluded a choked-up Hart.