RIVERDALE | Emergency service crews from the south suburbs — including Flossmoor and South Holland — played out a chemical spill scenario as part of the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Plan on Thursday at the Indiana Harbor Belt rail yard.
More than 50 agencies, ranging from fire and police to hazardous materials teams and Metra, took part in an exercise simulating a two-tank-car train derailment. The first car was imagined to contain chlorine while the second would have had hot asphalt.
"This gives us the foundation for what we need to do to better prepare for next time, for the real event," Riverdale Fire Chief Chris Van Dyke said. "How do we address if it gets worse — not only in Riverdale, but other communities?"
Van Dyke said that materials similar to the ones in the exercise come through the rail yard frequently and such a disaster is not unthinkable.
"We have two rail yards and we respond to them at least two to three times a year each," he said. "There's always the possibility that the next time is the time."
The simulation assumed a 15 mile per hour westward wind. A MABAS 22 graphic information system mapping truck on site plotted the plume that would result from a spill like the one in the exercise. Van Dyke said they would expect fumes to reach as far as Burnham in a worst-case scenario.
"We recognize that this is something that we need to do," Van Dyke said. "Every community, whether it's something like this or a terrorist situation, we need to know what we can do to address the situation and to be better at the end of all of it."
Parks Department employees and their children acted out roles as victims, lying around the rail cars coughing, calling for help and writhing in make-believe pain. Community members were invited to observe, including several from local government.
"It was interesting to see, in the command center, how quickly information can be gathered and with real-time information, the projections that are possible," Riverdale Village Administrator Nicole Montague said. "The emergency response teams have information readily available to them to make the right decisions or the system can be making the best decision possible."
The event was slow at the start, due to what Van Dyke called a miscommunication between the firefighters and railroad workers.
"(The simulation is) to evaluate and find better ways of doing things," Van Dyke said. "We'd rather have (problems) now, when there's nothing going wrong as opposed to when there is something going wrong."
It was the second of three phases of the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Plan in Riverdale. The final phase will be a table-top exercise June 7 at Village Hall.