Does your family have a hazmat plan?

A portable monitor used to check air quality during hazmat spills. MPR Photo/ Dan Gunderson

A lot of attention is focused right now on how well first responders are prepared for an oil train accident, given the significant increase in North Dakota Bakken crude traveling the rails.

But Moorhead hazmat team director Chad Stangeland thinks people who live near railroads should also ask that question of themselves. Preparing for a big accident, whether it’s oil or toxic chemicals, isn’t just the responsibility of first responders, said Stangeland. He also wants citizens to be prepared.

That will help ensure an effective response to an accident, he said.

“It’s a partnership of the public safety entities and also the citizens, to understand when a disaster happens,’What should I do for myself, my family and my neighbor?'”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency offers step by step advice on how to respond to hazardous material incidents.

The Minnesota Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management also has suggestions on how to prepare for an emergency.

Hazmat accidents don’t happen often. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a plan and know what to expect according to public safety officials.

Could you evacuate on a moment’s notice? What if you are told to “shelter in place”?

Stangeland said people instinctively know to flee a fire or explosion. But if an accident releases a toxic chemical cloud, authorities might tell people to stay inside their home or workplace.

“Think about the strife you would have internally,” he said, “going, ‘Wait a second.  It’s bad outside and you’re telling me to stay here?’  That goes against the grain of how people think and how they want to react.”

Just as firefighters train to respond to a real accident, emergency management officials want citizens to think about how they will react in the unlikely event an accident happens nearby.