ADOPTED: SR 982 Hazardous Material Near School

Thank you to all who helped with witness slips – SR 982 Hazardous Material Near School was adopted by the Senate on February 26, 2020.

Following the testimony of Gerri Songer, an educator for Township High School District 214, SR 982 received a unanimous vote in favor of moving the legislation to the Senate floor.  The Resolution was adopted by the Senate the next day.

Eerily, this Resolution was adopted the same day as an incident involving a major unit train derailment in East Chicago.

A total of 18 cars derailed, and 41 cars became disconnected from the rest of the train, which pulled 113 cars total. Of those, about a dozen were on their side.
Adjacent to the tracks are multiple underground pipelines, which NIPSCO shut off for precautionary reasons.”

What the news media didn’t mention was that East Chicago Urban Enterprise Academy, a K-8 public charter, was located nearby.  Students were instructed to do e-Learning days as a result of the derailment.  This incident could have been catastrophic due to the contents of the train, Bakken Crude Oil, and the adjacent underground pipelines.  Although the NBC 5 Chicago media clip sounds like an infomercial for the effectiveness of “stronger” and “safer” tank cars, the same type of tankers involved in this incident did not fair as well in other recent derailments resulting in oil spills and fires.

View DeSmog for details on recent derailments.

A follow up bill is still needed in Illinois.  This legislation must mandate specific and consistent emergency response protocol in an effort to protect children attending schools located within hazardous proximity of the storage and/or transport of hazardous materials.

Please ask your elected State and Congressional officials to sponsor legislation outlining the following emergency protocol recommendations:

  1. Worst-case scenarios must be communicated to both administrators and teachers.  It’s important teachers receive this information since they will be on the front line in responsible and effective safety management for their students.  Teachers must ultimately carry out administrative directives.   Not only must teachers have a thorough understanding of what a potential incident may look like, but they must also have a say in how to manage such an incident if it were to occur.  Teachers will think of complications that administrators won’t foresee since they are in day-to-day, direct contact with students.
  1. Routes and safety zones must be identified and communicated to both administrators and teachers.  School personnel must know the routes to take and locations where they can seek safety for students.
  1. Specific types of hazardous materials that can  negatively impact a school must be identified and communicated to both administrators and teachers.  Response plans will vary based on the potential impact of different hazardous materials.  For example, the release of ammonia can look like smoke.  Teachers may think it’s safe to allow students to pass through smoke, but school personnel and students can die very quickly from the inhalation of ammonia.  Also, protocol for a spill will be different from protocol for an explosion.
  1. Drills must be included in emergency response plans.  Administration, teachers, and students must be given opportunities to practice emergency procedures.  School personnel will not have much time to think during an incident; they must be familiar with protocol.  Also, drills are opportunities to identify potential problems that can arise during an actual incident.
  1. Emergency response plans must be in place for students with special needs.  Students with special needs such as cognitive disabilities, vision and hearing deficits, physical disabilities, and etc. will have specific needs that must be planned for and addressed prior to an incident.
  1. Evacuation locations and procedures must be communicated to parents.  Parents may become hysterical if they fear for the safety of their child.  Knowing where their child will be and procedures for picking him or her up will help alleviate confusion and high emotions during an emergency.
  1. Hierarchy for communication must be identified and accessible. Administration, teachers, parents, and students need to know where and how to access information during an emergency.
  1. Potential ‘Impact Zones’ must be identified and visibly marked.  Stickers on doors, such as those displayed to communicate ‘No Guns Allowed’, or signs will assist in raising issue awareness for administrators, teachers, parents, students, and school visitors.
  1. Safety Zones must be identified and visibly marked.  Stickers and/or signs will assist in communicating emergency protocol, routes, and locations during an incident.
  1. Potential ‘Impact Zones’ must be communicated to parents during student registration.  Parents have a right to know if there is something that can negatively impact the safety of their child – this is a moral issue.  No person or organization has the right to take away the ability to make decisions regarding the safety of a child from a parent.
  1. Potential ‘Impact Zones’ should be disclosed upon the purchase of a home.  Just as water damage is communicated during the sale of a home, buyers – particularly those with children – have a right to know if they will be living within dangerous proximity, and can be negatively impacted by, the transport and/or storage of hazardous materials.
  1. Reduced speed limit of 20 mph for freight trains posted 1 mile before a school and 2 miles after.  Tank cars are tested at 14 to 15 mph, and the average derailment speed for heavy freight trains is 24 mph.  Railroads agreed to reduce oil train speeds to 40 mph in urban areas.  Regulators said they would consider lowering the speed limit to 30 mph for trains not equipped with advanced braking systems.  Speeds in excess of 25 mph are considered “irresponsible” given the known weaknesses of tank cars.
  1. An Incident Command System (ICS) must be implemented as a mandatory channel for communication.  Stakeholders must have small teams at appropriate levels that have certified and trained personnel who can integrate into an ICS organization.  These teams can include public works, transportation departments, hospitals, heavy equipment contractors, food distributors, and etc.  An incident response plan will function more efficiently if each stakeholder knows how the entire response plan works and how to function within it.  Also, the process of training and exercises will aid in facilitating preparation, making connections, and identifying gaps and priorities.

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