The Association of American Railroads (AAR), in partnership with emergency management agencies in Sumner County, Tennessee, have piloted the addition of AskRail data to their emergency management dispatching system to ensure all first responders have accurate, timely information in the event of a rail emergency. Developed by the freight rail industry and the first responder community in 2014, AskRail has served as an on-the-ground, front-line tool to give first responders vital information about rail car contents and emergency response guides so they can swiftly and safely manage a rail accident. By training and working with dispatch centers, every first responder who arrives at the scene of a rail emergency can be assured they will have the right information to respond to the incident effectively.
“The industry has long collaborated with the first responder community to ensure the right tools and training are in place should a rail emergency occur,” said AAR President and CEO Ian Jefferies. “After East Palestine, we heard that challenges such as lack of cell phone service made using AskRail difficult in the early hours of the response. By extending access and training to dispatch centers, we’re adding another layer of coverage to communities that will keep the information flowing to those on the front lines of a rail emergency.”
To expand access of this essential information to emergency responders, AAR’s Hazmat Committee and its AskRail Task Force, consisting of representatives from railroads, emergency management agencies and first responders, developed a new training module specifically for Emergency Communications Centers (ECCs) on how to effectively use the AskRail app to support first responders and emergency planners.
“Every second counts when we arrive at the scene of an emergency,” said Christie Davis, ECC director of the Sumner County Emergency Communication Center. “Equipping our communications centers with AskRail provides all our first responders with the information they need to make faster, safer decisions that will protect our communities and save lives in the unlikely case of a rail emergency.”
The Sumner County test pilot is just the first step the freight rail industry is taking to expand access to AskRail. Railroads are working to run a similar pilot in Canada before the program is rolled out to emergency communication centers across North America. The AskRail app continues to be a part of the standard training emergency responders receive from the freight railroads and at the Security and Emergency Response Training Center. It also remains available for download through the Apple App Store and Google Play to qualified first responders. Through these combined efforts, the AAR plans to double the number of first responders who have access to the tool by the end of 2023.