Minnesota must heed call of oil-safety report
In Minnesota, the week should not pass without residents taking note of a report on the state's readiness for an oil-train or pipeline accident. Why? Because the public-safety workers themselves call their own readiness "below moderate," and "non...
In Minnesota, the week should not pass without residents taking note of a report on the state’s readiness for an oil-train or pipeline accident.
Because the public-safety workers themselves call their own readiness “below moderate,” and “none of the responders rated their area’s preparedness as excellent,” the Minnesota Public Safety Department study notes.
That’s a critical shortfall, and it’s one that Minnesotans should work hard to correct in the months ahead.
That effort almost surely will pay off. After all, as North America produces more of its own oil, more of that oil is going to be moving across Minnesota, pure and simple.
The trend will last for decades. The benefits to Minnesota of that oil transport will accrue over those decades, too – as they already are, in the form of increased tax revenues and lower gas and oil prices, among other things.
Essentially, time spent on emergency preparedness now will pay dividends for years (as long as the new readiness is maintained), and likely save lives and avert catastrophes in the process.
“The relatively low level of awareness and familiarity reported by first responders surveyed indicates that awareness-level training is necessary,” according to the report.
That training will cost money, but it need not be prohibitively expensive. For example, while equipment is important, awareness of proper procedures is even more important at this point, the report notes. And statewide, awareness is less costly to provide than equipment is.
“Experts from a variety of perspectives agree that in some circumstances, the appropriate response to a significant oil fire is to let the fire burn out or down considerably before attacking the fire,” the report notes.
“The correct public safety response in that situation is to clear the area, take defensive and mitigation actions as possible to prevent property and environmental damage and consider whether evacuation is warranted.
“For this reason, interviewees often warned against focusing on procuring equipment as a means of increasing preparedness.”
Rail companies themselves are responsible for much of the firefighting and other responses to emergencies. Likewise, new rules that will require safer rail cars for shipping oil, as well as national efforts to route oil trains around heavily populated areas, will go a long way toward improving the safety of oil transportation.
But first responders still are vital, for they’ll be on the scene long before any corporate or federal responders arrive. It’s vital that the responders be trained – and with that in mind, “the Department of Public Safety recommends expanding the state’s training program to support more hands-on training and exercises related to emergency preparedness in general,” the report declares as its No. 1 recommendation.
Minnesotans should insist that their state senators and representatives take note.
This opinion piece was originally published in the Grand Forks Herald, a Forum Communications Company publication.