Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Potential for Chemical Attack on Inaugural Train

Fred Millar, a long time reader of this blog and a vocal proponent for re-routing PIH chemical shipments around major urban areas, has sent me a copy of a letter that Friends of the Earth have sent to the US Secret Service outlining some of their concerns about the potential for a chemical attack on President-Elect Obama and Vice-President Elect Biden in their proposed rail trip from Chicago to Washington DC for their inauguration.

The letter acknowledges that the SS can probably protect their principals, Obama and Biden and their families, from the release of PIH chemicals enroute, they question whether or not the same can be said for the crowds that will attend the various functions along the route of that rail odyssey. They point to the potential threat from rail cars containing PIH chemicals on nearby freight rail lines as well as the many high-risk chemical facilities that would be expected to be along the rail lines in question.

While it has been many years since I had the pleasure of working with the SS on Vice-President Rockefeller’s trip to Berlin, GER (I had a very minor role as a guard Commander of the Relief at the facility which he spoke) I would expect that the SS is taking the FOE concern as seriously as it was intended. This is one of those ‘special events’ that the route selection rule would encourage the railroads to take into account in their route planning for hazmat shipments. While that rule has fewer teeth in it than many (certainly including Fred and myself) would like to have seen, I am sure that the persuasive powers of the Secret Service will be able to get the railroads to comply with shipping delays, re-routings, and the like necessary to keep railcars of chlorine, hydrogen fluoride, and anhydrous ammonia away from the general vicinity of the Obama train and stations where it will be stopping.

Likewise, I am sure that any high-risk chemical facilities along the route will have their normal security plans augmented by federal, state and local authorities. Inventories are likely to be adjusted and processes temporarily shutdown where possible to reduce the associated risks. Actually, because of the current state of the economy and chemical production rates, this should not be the same burden that it could be in more prosperous times.

Anyone that is interested in seeing a copy of the FOE letter can contact me. Fred has graciously allowed me to forward it to whomever I thought appropriate. If the FOE were to post this on their web site, I would certainly be happy to provide a link on this blog. One final thought. Anyone that gets involved in this issue that is willing to share details, after the fact please, I would certainly like to publicly examine the types of extraordinary security precautions that this type of event required.

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