Simulated train derailment at UNCP tests emergency responses


At 9:30 a.m. on March 11, emergency sirens at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke went off, and it was game on for a train derailment exercise.

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Regional Hazmat officers with chemical suits at the scene of the simulated derailment

A deluge of email, telephone and text messages swept across campus warning students, faculty and staff of a “high level” emergency. The simulated derailment and subsequent chemical spill gave University, local, county and regional emergency responders an opportunity to test their skills.

For UNCP, it was its second “live” emergency drill. In October 2008, the campus acted out an “active shooter” scenario.

In the train derailment exercise, five actors were rescued from Belk Hall and gas fumes overcame five emergency responders. Regional Hazmat personnel donned hazardous material suits and went to work.

Lt. Johnny Deal led the eight-man North Carolina Hazardous Regional Response Team from Fayetteville, N.C.

“In real time, we estimate it will take 90 minutes to arrive on the scene,” Lt. Deal said. “This was a great opportunity for us because we brought some new people, and we got to deploy the decontamination unit.”

Before the Regional Hazmat team arrived, Pembroke Rural Fire Department assumed control of incident command operations.

Chief Johnny Chavis, who is also a member of UNCP’s Police Department, called in the Robeson County Emergency Management Services.

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Pembroke City Fire Department officers load a victim/actor

“It was a learning experience, and it went better than I thought,” Chavis said. “Exercises like this are really important for volunteer depart- ments.”

Robeson’s Emergency Services Director Charles Britt is responsible for calling in the regional Hazmat unit and the local Hazmat unit, which is located in nearby Red Springs, N.C.

“I would like to thank the University for giving us this opportunity to practice these important skills,” Britt said afterwards.

Pembroke Police and Fire and Robeson County Emergency Medical Services were on hand. UNCP Police Chief McDuffie Cummings is also chief of the Pembroke Fire Department.

“This was a good day,” Chief Cummings said. “This simulation involved a hydrochloric gas leak, but the railroad tracks that travel through our campus carry many types of hazardous materials. This is important to our safety.”

Rick Boyd is UNCP’s assistant vice chancellor for Public Safety. His is a newly created position as all 16 UNC campuses have stepped up emergency planning.

“We need more exercises like this because we depend on outside emergency resources,” Boyd said. “Today, we identified some communication challenges, but because of this exercise, we will get better.”

Brent Herron, UNC’s associate vice president for Campus Safety and Emergency Operations, observed the exercise.

“It is a big commitment to put this simulation together,” Herron said. “I saw many strengths on display today.”

Herron has seen live exercises like this one on all 16 campuses of the UNC system.

“This was a good day,” he concluded. “You are true professionals.”

Also observing was a contingent from Fayetteville State University, including Travis Bryant, a Pembroke native who is associate vice chancellor for Public Safety.

“I observed from three different locations,” Bryant said. “We will do something like this later this year.”

EnviroSafe, UNC’s emergency planning consultants, coordinated the emergency simulation according to Homeland Security guidelines. Steve Naylor was the lead observer.

“This was a good exercise today,” Naylor said in the hotwash following the drill. “This was a full-scale exercise; we rolled trucks and equipment.

“This is a learning environment,” he said.

Naylor and EnviroSafe will issue an after-action report with an improvement plan.

“If you work on these things, you will get better,” Naylor said.

Dr. Glen Burnette Jr., vice chancellor for University and Community Relations, is responsible for emergency planning and Campus Police.

“I thought emergency communications to students, faculty and staff went very well,” Dr. Burnette said. “It’s a great opportunity to test our campus safety plans.”

“It was a great day,” he concluded.

For information about emergency planning at UNCP, please contact Campus Police at 910.521.6235 or email