OPELIKA, Ala. (WRBL) – It’s been three weeks since the catastrophic Norfolk Southern train derailment spewed toxic chemicals into East Palestine, Ohio. As the cleanup and investigation continue, some families are reporting rashes, nausea, and difficulty breathing.

In east Alabama lines for both CSX and Norfolk Southern railways crisscross our communities. Emergency responders tell WRBL they are prepared to protect citizens in a worst-case scenario.

“We try to take away lessons learn things that were done for right or for wrong and take them back and make sure we are as prepared as we can for the citizens of Lee County,” said Austin Jones with Lee County Emergency Management Agency 

For Opelika, a city built around the railroad, train derailments have happened before and remain a risk for both human and environmental safety. 

“The safety of our citizens is critical to that we need to be making quick decisions about whether or not it’s safe for them to be sheltering in place or if we need to get them out of the immediate area into a temporary shelter,” said Bob Parsons, Opelika Fire Inspector.

All Opelika firefighters are hazmat trained, 32 with advanced knowledge. In the event of a spill either on the roadway or railway, the first objective is identifying the substance using an ERG or Emergency Response Guide.

“We look at the placard either on interstate vehicles, or trains that would identify the substance of vehicles are carrying and locate that in our ERG book which gives you a wealth of information on whether the substance is toxic, flammable, or airborne,” said Parsons. 

As first responders begin containment they simultaneously communicate pushing out wireless emergency alerts to impacted residents.

“You look at the guide number in the ERG and this is immediately gonna tell the first responders a lot of information such as are there fire concerns, should we be standing upwind, protective gear, and most importantly, where we need to evacuate to. We will give alerts immediately as to what you need to do and where you need to go,” said Jones.

Lee Co. EMA has a list of supplies needed in your emergency preparedness bucket including a roll of duck tape if emergency responders ask you to tape your windows to keep toxic fumes from getting inside.

As always local first responders are ready to answer your questions and help you with your concerns.