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Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority Serving Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties

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This is Only a Test

Heather Redfern
Public Information Manager

With sirens blaring, first responders from multiple fire and rescue units raced to SEPTA's Media Regional Rail Station - a car on the tracks was struck by a train, causing a derailment with possible mass casualties and unknown injuries to passengers and personnel. Upon their arrival, the firefighters, medics and SEPTA staff were greeted by a smashed auto, smoking rail cars and screams of the injured needing help.

While the tense and scary situation seemed authentic, the derailment at Media Station was simulated; the 20 victims volunteers from Delaware County Citizen Corps, who had been given realistic, bloody injuries by moulage technicians. The exercise was purposeful - testing the emergency readiness plans of SEPTA personnel and the first responders the Authority relies on during an emergency.

"When an incident occurs, you have to be ready to handle the worst scenario. You can't hope that it won't be that bad," said Scott Sauer, SEPTA Assistant General Manager of System Safety. "The best way to be prepared for an emergency is to have a response plan that has been tested. You don't want the first time you put your plan into action is during real incident."

The event played out in real time. When the train "struck" the car shortly after 9 a.m., a crew member contacted SEPTA's Control Center. SEPTA personnel and Media-area fire and rescue units were immediately dispatched to the scene. Upon arrival, they assessed the situation.

"You have to be able to get into the train as quickly as possible, but you have to make sure the scene is secure. You can't risk injury to rescue workers as a result of downed wires or other unsafe condition," Sauer said.

Once overhead power was off, firefighters and medics were able to enter the train to check on passengers - some showing signs of cardiac arrest, other suffering injuries ranging from superficial cuts to compound fractures. Two wheelchair passengers were thrown from their chairs after impact. "Victims" were removed based on the severity of their injuries and their locations in the train.

The exercise lasted approximately two hours, but was preceded by meetings to discuss the exercise and help responders learn about SEPTA's equipment and facilities prior to the event. Following the drill, all participating agencies received the feedback needed to evaluate and refine their preparedness plans.

The emergency drill was conducted in accordance with the federal mandate requiring passenger railroads to conduct a full-scale emergency simulation each calendar year.

"Mandatory emergency drills like this are invaluable not only because they provide the opportunity to test staff knowledge and the thoroughness of readiness responses, but also because they give us the chance to work closely with local police and fire departments without the chaos of an actual event," said Sauer. "Emergency drills also demonstrate to the public that organizations are evaluating their safety efforts on a regular basis. We are preparing the first responders in a procedure so that they know exactly how they are going to handle this type of situation."


One of the accident "victims", a member of the Delaware County Citizen Corps, shows off wounds created by moulage technicians.



Firefighters check for victims inside the car that caused the "derailment".



The train's engineer was among the "injured".



A firefighter removes a window to circulate air through the smoke-filled car.



Firefighters assist a passenger in a wheelchair.