Train derailment

A Union Pacific train derailed between Twin Peaks and Avra Valley roads July 10 after heavy monsoon rains. Preliminary investigations show a track washout from flooding was the cause.

After the World Trade Center terrorist attack in 2001 and the Hurricane Katrina disaster in 2005, the federal government, alongside state and local governments, created detailed emergency plans to prepare for any future natural, technological or human-caused emergencies.

The Town of Marana first adopted their own Emergency Operations Plan in 2006, and updated it in 2012. Last Tuesday, Feb. 4, the town council once again adopted their plan, which lays out a framework for a “flexible, tiered response to emergency situations that begin at the local level and can expand in scope to regional, national, or even international concerns,” according to council documents.

The plan states emergency preparations should be coordinated across all agencies and organizations within the jurisdiction, and branch out to other jurisdictions outside the Town of Marana. 

It recommends non-governmental organizations and the private sector be involved in these preparedness efforts as well because they can provide “incident-related services” and they own critical infrastructure and resources that may be involved in emergency management.

During the planning phase of Pima County’s Multi-Jurisdiction Hazard Mitigation Plan in 2017, officials identified specific hazards that were likely to have an effect on the Marana region. These include disease, drought, earthquake, extreme temperature, flooding or flash flooding, hazardous material incidents, levee failure, severe wind, wildfire and winter storms.

Pima County’s plan is updated every five years.

That plan also identified critical infrastructure within Marana’s town limits. The Marana Regional Airport, 18 bridges, five broadcast facilities, one bus facility, two electric substations, one cell phone tower, five emergency facilities, six government facilities, one health center, two urgent care facilities, 10 schools and three potable or wastewater facilities are all assets that would need protection in case of an emergency.

Marana staff also add the town’s road network, pipelines, energy transmission systems and economic development centers to that list.

A number of consequences are anticipated in any kind of potential disaster. These include displacement of residents; injury or disease; fatalities; damaged or destroyed property; loss of essential services and critical infrastructure; damage to the economy, the environment and psychological damage to citizens; negative financial impact or unplanned expenses; issues with companion animals, wildlife and livestock; litigation and loss of confidence in public and private institutions.

Marana police, public works and water departments would be the first responders in the event of any town emergency, but all of the town’s departments could potentially get involved. Each department is required to have internal procedures for responding to an emergency.

The EOP would also cover cases such as a hurricane, tornado, landslide, tsunami, airplane crash, hazmat release, power failure, radiological release, urban conflagration, civil disturbance, cyber events, sabotage, school violence, terrorist attacks, train derailments and mass transit disruption.

“The plan is actually used more often than you might think,” said Curry Hale, the Marana Human Resources Director, during the council meeting.

On Sept. 10, 2014, the plan was used in response to Hurricane Odile, which caused the Santa Cruz River to flood. On Aug. 11, 2016, the plan was almost activated when a levee break flooded Grier Road. On July 11, 2018, the plan was used to respond to a train derailment at west-bound Interstate 10 near Twin Peaks Road.

And on Sept. 26, 2019, a tornado warning in Marana and Picture Rocks almost employed the plan. 

“The purpose of an EOP is to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of incident management during a potential emergency, or an actual emergency,” Hale told the council. “An EOP is required by the federal government as well as state law. Also, to receive FEMA funding for emergency or disaster incidents, an EOP must be in place.”

The mayor and council members were particularly concerned about how the EOP could be used to mitigate traffic jams on I-10. With 17 miles of interstate bisecting the Town of Marana, any traffic disruptions negatively affect the surrounding local roads.

Council member John Officer believes there have been more stoppages on the freeway due to car accidents in the last three years than in the last 30 years.

When a freeway accident caused cars to divert onto Avra Valley Road, Mayor Ed Honea said it caused the nearby Sanders, Sandario, Grier, Marana and Barnett roads to become heavily congested with large semi-trucks, leaving Marana residents immobile in their own town.

Council member Herb Kai said the town should employ MPD officers to help reroute traffic on the freeway in the case of a traffic stoppage. He asked Town Manager Jamsheed Mehta if they could coordinate with the Arizona Department of Public Safety during such an event.

Mehta said it was important to keep in mind that an emergency on the freeway would be under DPS jurisdiction, not the Town of Marana, because it’s a state-owned roadway. He said anything Marana does in an event like that will be directed by DPS.

“Our EOP is contingent on an event that happens that we are in control of,” Mehta said. “It’s the state troopers who are the ones taking this as an emergency situation, then we are serving them under their jurisdiction.”

However, Mehta said he is in communication with DPS and MPD Chief Terry Rozema to see what can be done to mitigate those traffic jams.

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