KAPOLEI, Hawaii (KHON2) — What would happen if a portion of the Honolulu Rail derailed?
Emergency officials held an exercise to answer that very question on Saturday, Oct. 22 and simulated the response to a crisis with dozens of passengers onboard.
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Two fire engines and ladders, one rescue team, a battalion chief and 35 total personnel from the Honolulu Fire Department responded to the simulated derailment.
Medical services — including Emergency Medical Services, American Medical Response and the Federal Fire Department — sent 12 ambulances and an EMS bus while 10 police officers maintained security and traffic control.
No one wants a derailment, but training for the exercise has been years in the making.
“We started training our personnel back in 2020, late 2020. During the COVID shutdowns, we trained over 1,000 of our personnel,” said HFD battalion chief Joseph Kostiha. “It’s been a number of years and finally it came and went and I felt it was a huge success.”
One of the first steps in a derailment would be to cut the power before first responders get on the tracks, but the entire rail will not be shut down just because one section is turned off.
“It would shut down the section that was involved. In this scenario, it was the end of the rail, so that would be the only one,” said Roger Morton, Department of Transportation Services director. “But the system would continue to operate and the area that was impacted would be isolated.”
HFD positioned ladders on either side of the rail car and inserted personnel to rescue live volunteers or mannequins from over 50 feet up.
“So at that point, our rescue personnel used their rope rescue and high-angle techniques to relay those patients onto the ground,” battalion chief Kostiha said.
The EMS Bus was needed since only 21 EMS ambulances run daily on Oahu.
“This was a simulation of 50 to 60 patients, so even if every single EMS ambulance responded on this island, there’s not enough for all these patients,” said Dr. James Ireland, Honolulu Emergency Services director.
Officials said 17 of the patients were listed under critical condition, so emergency responders coordinated with hospitals to check on their capacity.
“‘Okay, three are going to Queen’s Punchbowl, critical.’ Now, this is all simulated. ‘Eight are going to Poly Momi, serious.’ And they divide everybody up, so in an emergency with 60 patients, pretty much every hospital on this island would get patients.”
The exercise will be an annual requirement for the City. The Hawaii Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) will still be in charge for similar simulations before handing it over to Transportation Services.
Those in attendance did not see a real derailment.
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“What we did witness though, is exactly what I hoped we would see,” said Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi. “Which was tremendous coordination on all parts from our first responders, our fire department, our EMS, the support police gave us, and their ability to act on the spot.”