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9.7 Appendix 7 – Aiken County Sheriff’s Office After-Action Report

Aiken County Sheriff’s Office After-Action Report

Graniteville Train Wreck
January 2005

Aiken County Sheriff's Office logo


On January 6, 2005 at approximately 02:45, two Norfolk Southern freight trains collided in Graniteville, South Carolina. The collision resulted in a catastrophic release of chlorine gas to the atmosphere from a tank car damaged in the derailment. This release rapidly vaporized to form a dense and highly toxic airborne cloud affecting Graniteville residents and employees of nearby Avondale Mill. Other hazardous materials cars involved in the derailment included 2 additional chlorine cars, 1 sodium hydroxide car and 1 creosol car.

More than 500 people sought medical evaluation, approximately 70 people were admitted to hospital and 9 people were killed due to chlorine exposure.

Initial responding agencies from Aiken County included the Graniteville-Vaucluse-Warrenville (GVW) Fire Department, Aiken County Emergency Medical Services (ACEMS), Aiken County Sheriff's Office (ACSO), Aiken Department of Public Safety (ADPS) and Aiken County Emergency Management Division (ACEMD). Approximately 600 Federal, state and local personnel participated in the response to this disaster.

This report will focus primarily on the actions and observations of the Aiken County agencies involved in the initial response.

Strengths and Improvement Items will be identified to document the Aiken County Sheriff's Office ability to recognize, respond to, and control a hazardous materials emergency, as well as to coordinate an integrated response that will protect the health and safety of emergency response personnel, the general public and the environment.

Strengths are those areas in which responders demonstrated exceptional ability or knowledge, or other areas of programmatic solidity. Improvement Items are deviations or concerns regarding a particular issue. An improvement item, by itself, does not degrade the response, but the emergency response may be more effective if alternative measures were implemented. Strengths and Improvements Items will be identified utilizing objectives that are applicable to the agency's response authority.


Demonstrate the ability for agency personnel to perform response activities safely.

Criteria 1: Emergency response agency member perform response activities safely.

  • ACSO personnel had Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in their vehicles and were directed to utilize it.
  • ACSO Sheriff contacted neighboring county Sheriff's directly via cell phone to coordinate safe arrival direction to staging area.
  • ADPS Staging officer directed rescue personnel through specified safe routes.
  • OSHA representative offered support on Day 2 and identified no safety concerns for responders.
  • Habitability surveys were not conducted initially at Command Post or Forward Operations.

Criteria 2:  Effective scene safety operations through appointment of Safety Officer position reporting to Incident Commander (IC).

  • Safety Officer was not initially assigned for the incident however one was appointed when Command Post (CP) relocated to Kmart parking lot.


Demonstrate the ability to develop and implement appropriate protective actions.

Criteria 1: Determine/implement protective actions for the area.

  • Access controlled early through traffic control points established quickly and efficiently due to recent training. Locations determined based on major intersections and information received from 911 distress calls within first 15 minutes. Roadblock placement reevaluate within first 30 minutes, and determined to be adequate based on wind direction and hazmat input.
  • ACSO/GVW FD / ACEMD agreed to recommend shelter in place through utilizing Reverse 911.
  • Air monitoring at checkpoints discussed at 03:00 Command Post meeting.
  • Reverse 911 was not activated in a timely manner due to access available only by Emergency Management personnel. This weakness has been corrected so that Reverse 911 cannot be activated through direction from Dispatch supervisor or authorization of Incident Commander.

Criteria 2: Perform personnel accountability.

  • ACSO shift supervisor performed running roll call for those on-duty.
  • Personnel were ordered to go to staging (per their Incident Command System training) and reported to Aiken Department of Public Safety for accountability.
  • ACSO appointed Staging officer to coordinate incoming law enforcement resources.
  • To aid in accountability efforts, an employee roster was developed by plant supervision
  • No formal accountability procedure was utilized however handwritten logs were maintained as a result of previous training.
  • Staging checklist would be helpful if individual who normally fills position is unavailable.

Criteria 3: Isolate incident scene/area and plume path.

  • Personnel initially isolated the incident scene and surrounding area through conservative estimation by the ACSO shift supervisor.
  • DOT Emergency Response Guide used to determine 1.5 miles radius as initial protective isolation distance. Electronic version to be added to CP laptops.

Criteria 4: Demonstrate effective communications.

  • Key representatives of fire, law enforcement and emergency services at Command Post actively discussed evacuation versus shelter in place.


Demonstrate the ability to properly mitigate, stabilize conditions and gain control over the emergency situation.

Criteria 1: The emergency response agency mitigated the emergency effectively.

  • Evacuees were aided by ADPS and ACSO on Aiken/Augusta Highway and other traffic control points.
  • Due to scope of event, continuity of daily operations was identified as an issue to be addressed in planning.
  • Decontamination stations set up early at multiple locations outside of hazard area.
  • Federal Homeland Security assets requested to supplement rapidly exhausting resources.
  • GIS relationships previously utilized to aid criminal investigations and fire response resulted in early use of maps.
  • Evacuation for 1-mile based on information obtained early on (grid maps, etc); populations had already been determined through GIS data.
  • School closures were planned at 03:00 meeting.
  • Plan developed for safe shutdown of Avondale Mill plant operations.
  • ADPS utilized at hospital to conduct triage, treatment and security.

Criteria 2: The county EOC provides adequate support to assist in mitigating the incident.

  • County GIS personnel supported operations through continuous production of maps that were distributed to all agencies.
  • EOC staff worked to procure buses for initial evacuation and for transport from decontamination sites to hospital.
  • Salvation Army/Red Cross response implemented through plans developed by Emergency Management staff.
  • Credibility of EOC hampered by lack of a dedicated, adequate facility.
  • EOC staff not available until approximately 09:00-10:00 due to set-up and activation. Many issues the EOC could have helped with were handled at staging.

Criteria 3:  Demonstrate effective communications.

  • 800 MHz radios were brought in to make sure a common radio frequency was utilized among agencies. Because of familiarity with State and Homeland Security assets this request was initiated early on.
  • Aiken County communications center dedicated one channel for fire units operating at the Graniteville incident.
  • IC had constant communications with Hazmat, EPA and DHEC personnel.
  • Initial incident information was not adequately shared among responding agencies due to incompatible radio frequencies. This issue being addressed through acquisition of 800 MHZ radios for responding agencies command staff. Radios are being obtained through Homeland Security funding.

Criteria 4: Demonstrate Command and Control

  • The Incident Command System and key positions were implemented early in response.
  • Routine briefings were conducted for participating agencies.
  • When Sheriff left the CP, command was formally transferred to other ACSO staff.
  • Key agency representatives responding to the CP should be clearly identified and remain in the CP throughout the incident to support the IC.

Criteria 5: Agencies effectively integrate additional support into UC/EOC operations.

  • Additional emergency response agencies reported to Staging and sought out Sheriff for briefing. Agencies were logged in and a directory of contacts was developed.
  • Private contractors were staging apart from the responder's staging area.
  • Hazmat entry team provided video at first light; SLED helicopters utilized for search and rescue and for scene status.
  • Federal/state response agencies integrated into Unified Command and participating in briefings.

Criteria 6: Law enforcement personnel mitigate the security crisis effectively.

  • ACSO SWAT team activated per pre-developed plan, to address possible additional terrorist events at critical infrastructure locations in county.
  • Due to possible hostile incidents indicators, State Homeland Security resources activated by Sheriff upon receipt of initial call, bringing the SC Law Enforcement Division (SLED) on board.
  • FBI responded quickly due to pre-established relationship.
  • Current Mutual Aid Agreements in place for additional response agencies.
  • Curfew implementation was discussed in the early morning and planned. Council Chairman signed a county ordinance to give Sheriff the authority to impose curfew prior to Governor declaring State of Emergency. Sheriff was in contact with Governor's Office and the Attorney General's office to coordinate declaration of State of Emergency. Attorney General arrived at the scene to discuss legal ramifications of declaration.

Criteria 7:  Appropriate actions are taken to protect and account for emergency responders at the scene.

  • Rescue, curfew and evacuation operations were initially planned for a 7 day period. Issues identified and addressed include: food / hydration / shelter / sanitation barricades / shift rotation.
  • ADPS and SCSO provided hurricane stock of bottled water for responders. 
  • Accountability system (hazmat wristbands) implemented by Fire Department was not communicated to all responding agencies.
  • Coroner had to PPE for entering hazmat zone. This issue being addressed through acquisition of PPE through Homeland Security funding.
  • Accountability badge system needs to be developed for private vendors that respond to incident with no official identification.


Activate emergency response facilitate in an effective and timely manner based on the type and extent of emergency.

Criteria 1: Activated emergency response members report and perform their assigned duties.

  • Dispatch conducted recall by alpha-numeric pager (All-Call) to respond to Staging.
  • Initial Command Post (CP) was at Honda Cars of Aiken for 30-45 minutes before being relocated to Kmart. CP setup was conducted through the on-call Communications Officer from the procedure in place.

Criteria 2: Demonstrate effective communications.

  • Briefings were conducted at least 6 times daily with formal 2-hour notice; more often if needed. All response agencies were informed of briefing times.
  • Uninterrupted dispatch communications at the CP accomplished by mobile communication vehicle and aided response communications.
  • Hard phone lines were run to the CP by noon on Day 1.

Criteria 3:  Law enforcement personnel staff and activate properly to maintain security of facilities.

  • Initial Access controls were put in place via cones/tape/patrol officers.
  • Day 3, decision makers moved to the antique mall and restricted access through 24-hour security procedures that were implemented.


Develop and disseminate accurate and timely information to the news media and the public.

Criteria 1: Issue accurate news releases in a timely manner.

  • Initial news release was issued within an hour of the event and contained accurate information.
  • Briefings were scheduled to accommodate newspaper/radio/television deadlines.

Criteria 2: Inform state and county elected officials, local and national news agencies of the event, and disseminate accurate information and instructions to the public.

  • Community meetings were conducted to provide info on housing, food, and progress of cleanup operations. Mental health agencies were present at these meetings. Issues included pets and reentry concerns.
  • Rumor control—211 information line was coordinated by the EOC; rumors were also addressed during news briefings.

Criteria 3: Demonstrate effective communications.

  • Spanish interpreter used to provide emergency information to public.
  • EPA and SCDHEC produced flyers for citizens with information regarding housekeeping and food handling upon return to homes.
  • Public Service Announcements were produced and broadcast regarding housekeeping and food handling upon return to homes.
  • Quarterly media relations meetings conducted by local law enforcements to develop pre-crisis relationships resulted in effective communications.

Criteria 4: Demonstrate command and control.

  • ACSO Public Information Officer (PIO) coordinated media through implementation of a media staging area that was clearly identified to media.
  • Responding agencies should pre-identify a PIO and participate in Joint Information Center (JIC) briefings.


Perform recovery activities.

Criteria 1: Develop a recovery plan outline that identifies appropriate recovery strategies.

  • Law enforcement met with fire, school reps, EPA and DHEC on school re-openings. Requested visible DHEC/SLED/FBI support on re-opening days. Open house conducted day prior to re-opening.
  • Maps were updated in reverse showing reduction in impacted areas.
  • Reentry was coordinated with DHEC/EPA and companies contracted to perform cleanup.
  • Detailed discussion conducted with cleanup contractor regarding re-opening of roadways and possible to equipment located on Aiken/Augusta Highway.
  • Meetings were held to discuss financial implications of plant shutdown and other issues of affected businesses and utilities (meeting payroll, phone communications, etc.).
  • Recovery plan not formally documented in a written plan.
  • Reimbursement needs should be included in recovery plan (supplies, hours, equipment, etc.).
  • Utilization of business cards of other "quick reference" needed to assist in identifying major players involved in recovery planning.
  • Recovery plan should include animal control/consideration of animal welfare.


Demonstrate the adequacy and functionality of facilities and equipment to support emergency operations.

Criteria 1: Facilities and equipment are adequate, functional and safe to operate.

  • Command staff made arrangements to utilize nearby vacant building for Unified Command operations.
  • Arrangements need to be made for copy machines/printers/pin boards/grease pencil boards/current maps.
  • Early identification needed to resolve issues with generator smell and noise at CP/UCP
  • Pre-determined arrangements should be made for potential fuel needs during disasters. This issue has been addressed and agreements have been secured to meet this need.
  • Consideration should be given to developing capability of mobile mapping and GIS capabilities.
  • UCP setup should include rapid setup of Internet capabilities for more effective communications and data sharing between responding agencies.

February 6, 2006
Publication #FHWA-HOP-08-014