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12/5/2001



Rail News: Passenger Rail

WMATA's chemical-release drill shortened by actual federal building fire


Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority since 1999 has been testing chemical-sensing equipment through a partnership with U.S. Departments of Transportation, Justice and Energy, and planned to hold a drill Dec. 5 to evaluate response time and coordination between District of Columbia Fire Department (DCFD), its hazardous-materials crews, WMATA and other local public agencies. The one contingency they didn’t plan on was an actual fire disrupting the drill — practically in the middle of the fire department’s staging area.



The drill was held at WMATA’s Smithsonian Metro Station, at the National Mall entrance on 12th Street and Jefferson Drive, SW. DCFD set up its emergency command center on 14th Street and Independence around 1:15 a.m. Officials donned their haz-mat suits and were identifying what agent had been fictionally released, as well as which stations should be closed in what order to protect the public in case of an actual release in the subway tunnels or stations.



Meanwhile, welders were working in a 12th Street building that houses the Department of Agriculture. One of the welders came out of the building, approached a D.C. police officer and advised there was smoke in the building, likely caused by the welding work being done.



The drill was cancelled at 2:38 a.m. as haz-mat suit-garbed D.C. firefighters — already assembled near the building’s doors — began running into the building and extinguishing the two-alarm fire. After about 45 minutes, the fire was out.



Because the drill already was two-thirds complete at the time of the fire — and critical aspects such as response time, and inter-agency cooperation and coordination had been completed successfully — officials opted to call it a night.



When the technology becomes available, the detection system also would be able to detect the harmful release of biological agents.


Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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