Chief, Operations Branch
Division of Preparedness and Response
The NRC’s Emergency Operations Center in Rockville, Md., is the hot spot for agency responders during real events and exercises. It was there that experts convened when planes became terrorist tools in 2001 and when Fukushima’s reactors began to fail after a massive tsunami in 2011.
It’s also been hub for countless exercises and smaller events that pull together trained responders from throughout the agency to staff teams responsible for monitoring reactor responses, planning for protective actions, and staying connected with stakeholders ranging from other federal agencies to Congress and the media.
But the Op Center had issues as a work space. It was cramped, with low ceilings and a strange use of space to accommodate the “wagon wheel” design, with all teams arranged around the decision-making Executive Team. It was also a design based on people moving around and passing paper.
As far back as 2008, the NRC began looking at options for redesigning and/or moving the Op Center. With the impending construction of the 3WFN building, the decision was made in 2010 to move the center across the street to the new addition to the headquarters complex.
A view of the agency’s new Op Center, with the Executive Team on the left and the Reactor Safety and Protective Measures teams on the right, seen here during an exercise.
While the footprint is about the same in terms of square feet, the new center has a large open area and a better design with a more efficient use of space. A large “video wall” with six projectors and 80 linear feet of room allows maps, status information, chronologies, task check lists and news feeds to be presented simultaneously for all responders to see. LED lighting provides a better spectrum, saves energy and is easier on the eyes for responders often working 12-hour shifts during real emergencies.
The new space also relies on web cams and head sets for responders to give briefings to the Executive Team. This reduces foot traffic, noise, and the need for team leaders to be away giving briefings when they are needed to be near their response staff. The Executive Team members – the agency’s top managers – have their own laptop computers to stay better connected via email and the internet to response information without relying on the “transfer of paper” that was the norm previously.
Separate spaces for the support teams include an expanded room for the Federal Liaison Team, which has increased its members since Fukushima. The room has space for liaisons from other federal agencies to be part of the NRC response.
And there is a secure conference room and safeguards team room for discussion of classified information. Also in the new Op Center is space for the Headquarters Operations Officers – key personnel who staff the center 24-hours-a-day as the link between the agency and licensees.
The Op Center’s location in the basement of the new building is an additional plus. It has no windows and is considered more secure and robust in the event of a severe weather event that might have rendered the former Op Center temporarily unusable.
All in all, the new Op Center helps the NRC be ready to respond to any incident involving its licensees.