N.J. gas company holds pipeline explosion drill in Hamilton Township

HAMILTON, N.J. (WPVI) -- Public Service Electric and Gas workers put their skills to the test Wednesday, in a mock emergency response at the Cypress Garden complex in Hamilton Township, New Jersey.

Local police, fire and EMS also participated in the simulated gas leak. It's part of a year-round effort to keep the public safe, and keep officials prepared for the worst.

In one scenario a contractor hit a gas line, causing a leak and explosion.

"We want to see how our crews work together. We want to see if they coordinate. We want to see if they're at a safe enough distance. Are they evacuating people? Are they taking readings? There are a lot of different moving parts," said Mike Weber, PSE&G.

The head of PSE&G's gas operations says the company responds to 250 gas leaks a day, many caused by contractors who don't call 811 first to get the gas lines marked.

"About 40 percent of our damages are due to contractors digging without a mark-out request. It's the law," said Joe Foreline, PSE&G.

PSE&G began the drills after the deadly 2014 explosion in Ewing at the South Fork development. After construction workers hit a gas line, one woman died, several were injured and 11 homes were leveled.

Typically the exercises are done at a training facility, but doing it in a real neighborhood gives the gas company and first responders a more realistic setting.

"In any emergency situation there will be missteps. There will be mistakes. This will make sure that those can be eliminated or minimized," said Mayor Kelly Yaede (R-Hamilton).

The power of gas explosions like the one in Stafford Township caught on police car dash cam in 2015 is another reminder of the danger the leaks can pose, and why response drills make sense.

"It makes you feel a little more better because at least they have somewhat of an idea of what they're doing and how to approach it," said Marybeth Hallgreen of Hamilton Township.

After the drill, participants join in what's called a "hot wash" - a discussion of what went right, what went wrong and how they can learn from it.
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