The Association of American Railroads and Norfolk Southern have integrated AskRail, the industry’s hazardous materials app for first responders, into the emergency management dispatching systems for Columbiana County, Ohio, and Beaver County, Pa., which serve the East Palestine, Ohio, area.
The AskRail app helps ensure that first responders can quickly access train consist information to help them safely respond to a rail-related emergency.
“Railroads are dedicated to preventing an accident before it happens and also bear the responsibility of equipping first responders with the right tools and training to manage a rail emergency safely and effectively,” AAR CEO Ian Jefferies said in a statement. “Following the East Palestine incident, railroads pledged to dramatically increase the availability of AskRail and today are providing more than 2.3 million first responders with streamlined and reliable access to this critical tool.”
Launched in 2014, the AskRail app was developed in partnership with the emergency response community to provide accurate, timely data about the hazardous materials transported in rail cars. This information empowers first responders to make informed decisions swiftly during a rail emergency.
Following the Feb. 3 Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, AAR and the rail industry conducted a thorough risk assessment of AskRail to identify areas for improvement. The industry aims to increase coverage and information, ensure communications reliability, and to streamline communications to create a more efficient response.
AskRail has been integrated into CHEMTREC and CANUTEC’s 24/7 call centers in the U.S. and Canada, respectively. Through existing hazmat certification programs, first responders are trained to utilize these call centers for assistance in managing a chemical emergency response. This integration ensures that AskRail is now universally available to first responders in these two countries.
However, railroads recognize that most volunteer fire departments, which make up nearly 82% of all U.S. fire departments and protect almost 30% of the U.S. population, may be unfamiliar with CHEMTREC. Instead, when volunteer responders are called to the scene of an emergency, they are trained to utilize their county’s emergency dispatch systems as their primary line of communication.
By integrating AskRail into emergency communications centers, railroads ensure that volunteer firefighters have access to vital information via established, streamlined and reliable communications channels. By leveraging these centers, AskRail data becomes an integral part of the standard communication protocols for all first responders – whether paid or volunteer – for handling potential emergencies within a community.