Being prepared for a tunnel emergency

Published 10:36 am Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Joint training emergency response exercise involves 21 Agencies

More than 24,000 cars, trucks, motorcycles, RVs, buses and commercial vehicles pass through Cumberland Gap Tunnel every day, according to the Cumberland Gap Tunnel Authority. From July 2020 through June 2021, authorities escorted over 18,000 trucks transporting hazardous materials through the tunnel. Despite safety measures, accidents can and do occur. In fact, Park Rangers at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park are called to respond to traffic accidents in and around the tunnel more often than any other type of call.

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A car crash inside a mile-long tube under a mountain can quickly create difficult and dangerous conditions. Authorities must be ready to respond at a moment’s notice. But which authorities? The tunnel is owned by the National Park Service but managed by the Cumberland Gap Tunnel Authority. Its roads connect two cities, two counties, and two states. Any or all those authorities and more may need to respond to a tunnel emergency, and when seconds matter for saving a life, they must be able to quickly contact and coordinate with each other.

To help ensure emergency responders from different authorities will be able to effectively communicate and work together when it matters, area agencies will participate in a joint training exercise on April 22, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College will serve as the site of a staged “tunnel crash.” First responders from 21 city, county, local, state and federal agencies will work together to practice fire suppression, vehicle extrication, triaging the “injured” and other life-saving actions.

Agencies participating in this joint training emergency response exercise include:   

• Cumberland Gap Tunnel Authority

• Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

• Middlesboro Police Department

• Claiborne County Sheriff’s Office

• Lee County Sheriff’s Office

• Bell County Sheriff’s Office

• Tennessee Highway Patrol

• Virginia State Police

• Kentucky State Police

• Middlesboro Fire Department

• Cumberland Gap Volunteer Fire Department

• North Tazewell Volunteer Fire Department

• Claiborne County Emergency Medical Service

• Lee County Emergency Medical Service

• Bell County Rescue Squad

• Jonesville Rescue Squad

• Thomas Walker Rescue Squad

• Highlands Emergency Air Rescue & Transport

• Air Evac Lifeteam

• Claiborne Medical Center

• Appalachian Regional Healthcare

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park preserves the first great gateway to the west, where Daniel Boone and over 300,000 settlers crossed the Appalachians. Located where Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia meet, the park includes over 24,000 acres with more than 85 miles of trails and over 14,000 acres of recommended wilderness. The visitor center, located in Middlesboro, Kentucky, is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission to the park is free. For more information visit the website or check out its Facebook page. 

More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 419 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities. Learn more at, and on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.