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Louisiana parish protects children in schools near rail lines with real-time chemical detection technology

Senator Rick Ward

By Terry L. Jones 

Livonia, LA - Pointe Coupee Parish is arming itself with military-grade technology that will give its local emergency response teams the ability to detect hazardous chemical threats even before many state agencies.

That protection is being made possible through the installation of a $300,000 chemical security network being integrated into the parish’s recently upgraded 911 system.

The network, unveiled to the public Thursday, is a pet project of Police Juror Kurt Jarreau, who said the Regional Fence Line Monitoring Standoff Detection and Chemical Security Network “will enable school administrators and/or community leaders to either evacuate or shelter in place” without having to wait for directives from state agencies and local chemical companies.

“When I took office in 2008 at the parish level, I made a pledge that I would do whatever it took to put something in place to offer our school system, community and local responders the very best technologies to provide real-time response to emergencies,” Jarreau said at Thursday’s news conference.

His behind-the-scenes work to secure funding for the chemical alert system began four years ago after two train cars derailed in the Union Pacific Railroad freight-handling yard in Livonia, spilling nearly 700 gallons of diesel fuel. Parish officials didn’t learn about the spill until nearly an hour after the trains derailed.

Jarreau praised state Sen. Rick Ward III, R-Port Allen, for playing an instrumental role in securing the state dollars needed to push the project forward.

Ward said the project remained on the top of his priority list since taking office in 2012, his main motivation being protecting the children who attend parish schools adjacent to many of the major rail lines in the parish.

The parish used a $200,000 allocation from the state and a $100,000 contribution from the Police Jury to finance the network’s construction and installation.

“When it comes to your hometown, you want to go that extra mile to get them what they need,” Ward said.

Jarreau convinced the parish Police Jury to hire George Lane, adjunct professor of Homeland Security and a principal investigator at the Naval Postgraduate School, to design and help implement the chemical security network.

In 2013, the parish conducted a Commodity Flow Study, which tracked the transport of hazardous materials by use of the parish’s highways, pipelines, waterways and rail lines. Lane used data collected from the study in his recommendation the RFLM network be installed near Fire Station 41 on La. 77 — just outside Livonia city limits.

Lane’s design consists of a fixed chemical detector that uses both an infrared sensor and a video camera that will continuously scan for chemical releases within a 3.5-mile radius.

The fixed detector transmits live video footage and specific details about chemicals released, such as measurements, intensity and makeup, to the parish 911 center and to various fire stations.

“They’ll be able to visually see chemical releases and not just calculations,” Lane said. “This thing will detect chemicals as soon as they leave containers. We’ll be able to tell what the chemical is, where it’s going and where it came from.”

The system includes a portable chemical detector that confirms chemical detections picked up by the fixed network and samples air quality for officials in the field who respond to possible threats.

Officials said the software will be integrated into the parish’s 911 system in about a month.

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.


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