In a rarity in Congress, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Railroad Emergency Services Preparedness, Operational Needs, and Safety Evaluation (RESPONSE) Act on May 11, 2016.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.Dak.) introduced the act after a train derailment in Casselton, N.Dak. in late 2013. Her bill would establish a public-private council that combines emergency responders, federal agencies, and leading experts to review training and best practices for first responders. This council, co-chaired by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), would provide Congress with expert recommendations on how to address first responders’ safety needs with increased railway safety challenges so they can best protect communities across the country. The council’s recommendations would be due in one year.
Companion legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in February 2015 by U.S. Representative Ron Kind (D-Wisc.).
“First responders—the vast majority of whom are volunteers in North Dakota—selflessly put their lives on the line and run toward danger to protect our families,” said Heitkamp. “That’s exactly what happened in Casselton one December afternoon in 2013, when responders ran toward the black smoke of a train derailment that could be seen for miles—and it’s what our country has continued to see following oil train derailments throughout the country. To make sure they are protected and able to do their jobs to keep our communities strong and safe, it’s absolutely critical for the federal government to show emergency response teams the same support. By unanimously passing my bipartisan legislation creating a public-private council to help Congress address the needs of first responders, the U.S. Senate stood in solidarity with our communities near railroads, and the first responders who keep them safe.”