Rail car terror attack exercise helps Brown Co. businesses and safety officials

Businesses in the area of McDonald St. in Green Bay were asked to evacuate May 15, 2014, as part of an emergency training exercise. (WLUK/Laura Smith)

GREEN BAY - Brown County safety officials are preparing for a worst case scenario.

Fire and hazardous materials crews trained in Green Bay along the Fox River for a possible terror attack Thursday.

"We simulated a terrorist attack on a rail car containing a very flammable, very toxic chemical," said David Siegel, a hazmat training officer with the Green Bay Metro Fire Dept.

The situation called for a large scale evacuation.

The drill is part of the Maritime Security program. Green Bay fire and Brown County hazmat needed to alert businesses that are part of the port.

"It's important to kind of get our processes in order, and understand how businesses are going to react to something like this and how government is going to respond to that," said Paul Gazdik, Brown County's emergency management director.

Eight companies participated, including St Marys Cement.

"The most important thing we're going to learn from this is how we actually interact with our emergency responders. How they do things. From a business side we know what we would do but we don't know what they would do," said Michael Vizer, St Marys Cement terminal manager.

Emergency management officials say toxic chemicals come through the Green Bay area on a regular basis, making this training exercise a very realistic example.

"The best comparison of this would be Weyauwega," said Siegel.

On March 4, 1996, a train carrying chemicals derailed and started on fire. The entire town was forced to evacuate for weeks.

If Thursday's mock situation were real, officials say people living anywhere from the mouth of the Fox River to the southern border of Green Bay would have to leave.

"I can tell you that evacuations are one of the most difficult things that we do," said Siegel. "It takes a lot of crews a lot of time just to accomplish a very little amount of evacuation, so practicing that face to face is so important."

Firefighters also walked through residential areas to gauge the amount of manpower and time it might take to evacuate neighborhoods.

"Kind of makes you feel good that they are watching, and they have a drill and they have a plan on hand, so when something does happen they know exactly what to do," said Danny Schwemer.

Safety officials say the drill ran smoothly thanks to excellent communication by crews.

However, some issues cropped up, including how to get everyone out of the area, and making sure no one is left behind.

"We found out some businesses, that on the sheer size of their business, they don't necessarily know how many people are there or where they're at. And that's the type of thing, that's a surprise," said Siegel.

That's why these drills are done Siegel explained, "Because nothing ever goes perfect."

Most of the facilities along the Fox River that deal with ships, are required to do security exercises once a year.

Local fire and hazmat officials have joined in on the drills for the last few years.