Thursday, October 27, 2011

Recent Nuclear Drill a True Team Effort

- Teri Engelhart, Radiological Emergency Preparedness Program Manager

In early October, Wisconsin Emergency Management and Kewaunee and Manitowoc Counties successfully completed an evaluated nuclear power plant exercise. It seems that as soon as one exercise is done, it’s time to start working on the next one. Actually, it doesn’t just seem that way…it is that way. Having wrapped up the exercise the morning of October 4th, the Radiological Emergency Preparedness (REP) unit retreated to our office and continued working on the April 2012 Point Beach Nuclear Plant and July 2012 Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant exercises.

Radiological exercises require months of planning by an exercise design team and the participation of hundreds of people. Participants from the counties include emergency managers, first responders and other organizations such as agricultural extension, human services, school districts and public health. At the state level, departments such as Health Services; Natural Resources; Children and Families; and Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection participate and coordinate with their counterparts at the impacted counties. Volunteer organizations including the American Red Cross and ARES/RACES (licensed radio amateurs) participate in both the counties and the state. In addition, a large number of staff members from the nuclear power plant are involved as well.

Representatives from a number of state and federal agencies
take part in the drill at the State Emergency Operations Center.
These exercises are evaluated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Recently, federal agencies have increased their level of participation and are testing their own activation processes and procedures. Present in the State Emergency Operations Center during our October 4th exercise were representatives from FEMA and the National Regulatory Commission.

Agencies that could not be physically present in the state or county emergency operations centers (EOC) or at the plant are utilizing other methods to participate. The U.S. Department of Defense’s Consequence Management Home Team and a Federal Advisory Team participated by phone, much as they would in a real event. This federal participation gave our usual group of players a new perspective – a more realistic vision of how our EOC would operate during an actual nuclear emergency.  As we develop future exercises, we plan to progressively build on these activities with the federal agencies.

While REP exercises take a long time to plan and a substantial time commitment from many organizations, they have an inherent value. Almost every component of a REP exercise can be applied to other hazard responses, such as severe weather events. Notification, communications and public information are all functions that would be necessary for any response, and we get plenty of practice during REP exercises. The relationships that are formed during these exercises can be extremely valuable when we are responding to a real event. I’d like to think that the REP program contributes to preparing our state and county agencies for a successful response to any disaster that we may have to face.