Exercise Athéna: improving Canada’s response to incidents involving flammable liquids transported by rail


24 February 2017

On February 25 and 26, 2017, Transport Canada and Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), an agency of the Department of National Defence (DND), will conduct Exercise Athéna, a field exercise designed to improve Canada’s response capabilities in the event of an incident involving a train carrying flammable liquids, such as crude oil.

Through Exercise Athéna, the Government of Canada has created a unique forum for petroleum and railway industry experts and the first response community to improve effectiveness when responding to incidents involving a train carrying flammable liquids.

The exercise will be conducted over a two-day period. Participants will have to organize themselves under a structure as they would be expected to do during an actual incident.

On Day 1, first responders will attend in-class and field training where they will learn about the Emergency Response Assistance Plan (ERAP) program and resources available from industry and Transport Canada. They will also receive information on the appropriate practices, strategies and tools to use when responding to a train derailment.

On Day 2, first responders will be able to practice the skills and knowledge they received on Day 1 by participating in an exercise comprised of three rotations. Industry instructors will provide guidance at each of the stations. The stations will involve either a virtual reality application or a “real life” scenario.

The project is led by Transport Canada and funded through the Canadian Safety and Security Program (CSSP), a federally-funded program led by Defence Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science, in partnership with Public Safety Canada.

Partners include: first responders from rural Quebec, Association des chefs en sécurité incendie du Québec, École nationale des pompiers du Québec, l’Institut maritime du Québec, International Safety Research, Suncor Energy, CN Rail, CP Rail, Railway Association of Canada, Genesee and Wyoming Canada Inc., Emergency Response Assistance Canada (ERAC), MD-UN, GHD Canada, Williams Fire and Hazard Control.

Learning demonstrations

First responders are usually the first on the scene when a train derails. That said, when the incident involves large volumes of flammable liquids, a specialized response is needed to ensure the safety of both the public and the responders.

Pre-Exercise Training

In-class instruction will feature presentations on the federal mechanisms and industry resources that are in place to support first responders during this type of incident. First responders will also receive presentations on the following topics:

  • How to conduct a comprehensive site assessment;
  • How to identify railcars that can carry hazardous material and dangerous goods placards (ie. labels that appear on the side of train tankers which identify the hazardous substance or flammable liquid that is being transported); and
  • An overview of basic railway operations during an incident, and specialized industry response strategies and tactics.

Exercise Scenarios

In the first scenario, participants will face a simulated train derailment. Using tablets, they will have to conduct a comprehensive site assessment, including the following aspects:

  • Identify the type of railcar based on its physical features and use the markings to identify the contents;
  • Make a preliminary damage assessment from a safe distance; and
  • Develop a risk assessment that takes into account the risk to life, health, property and the environment.

In the second scenario, participants will be faced with an actual fire using a replicated railcar prop. Participants will test the appropriate response strategies, techniques and procedures to use when dealing with this type of fire.

The third scenario will consist of a combination of three interactive activities. In the first activity, by using various scenarios, participants will be given the opportunity to examine the Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG) 2016 more in depth. The ERG is a book used by first responders to help them identify the hazards of material(s) involved in an incident. It explains what they need to know to protect themselves and the general public during the initial response.  The second activity, will allow them to explore gas detection and air monitoring methods. The third activity will expose responders to the different types of industry response equipment, which could be brought to the scene in these types of emergencies.

When dealing with a flammable-liquid fire, using the wrong approach can often make the situation worse. Specialized techniques are required to combat and contain the complex fires that occur when dealing with rail tank cars. Dangerous goods, particularly flammable liquids, have unique properties that must be understood in order to effectively deal with an incident. In these situations, it is equally important that the various emergency response organizations collaborate and share information to deal with the emergency in a coordinated, safe manner.

Support for first responders

About Transport Canada 

Responding effectively to a train derailment demands a joint effort between first responders and other organizations with specific mandates related to these types of incidents. Transport Canada’s main role during an emergency situation involving dangerous goods is to bring together the right people – first responders, industry specialists, dangerous goods experts – and provide immediate scientific advice.  

In the event of an incident involving dangerous goods, Transport Canada provides real-time assistance and information to first responders through CANUTEC, the department’s 24/7 emergency response centre. The department may also provide on-the-ground support from a Remedial Measures Specialist who may be dispatched to the scene. These emergency response specialists are experienced in interpreting technical information from various scientific sources in order to provide pertinent and timely advice. They are also designated as inspectors under the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act

Under the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, for dangerous goods requiring specialized response capabilities, shippers are required to develop an Emergency Response Assistance Plan (ERAP) to ensure measures are in place to respond effectively in the event of a transportation incident involving dangerous goods. 

An ERAP is a formal plan that describes what industry will do to support first responders in the event of an incident involving its dangerous goods and describes the specialized response capabilities, equipment and procedures that will be used. ERAPs must be prepared and submitted to Transport Canada for verification and approval before the shipment can occur.

About DRDC

DRDC is the national leader in defence and security science and technology. As an agency of DND, DRDC provides DND, the Canadian Armed Forces, other government departments, as well as the public safety and national security communities with the knowledge and technology advantage needed to defend and protect Canada’s interests at home and abroad.

About the CSSP

The Canadian Safety and Security Program is led by Defence Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science, in partnership with Public Safety, which provides security and public safety policy guidance to the program.

Launched in 2012, the CSSP is one of many efforts undertaken by the Government of Canada to increase the country’s public safety and security capabilities. The program aims to develop science and technology solutions to anticipate and prevent incidents that threaten Canada’s safety and security, to prepare and respond to these incidents when they happen and, ultimately, to recover from their aftermath.

The program supports projects that bring together federal, provincial/territorial and municipal governments, first responders, response and emergency management organizations, non-governmental agencies, industry and academia to develop science and technology solutions and advice to public safety and security challenges.

Report a problem or mistake on this page
Please select all that apply:

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: