Ten years ago, the nation was still reeling from the events of Sept. 11th, and the NRC was gearing up to face a changed world with, among other actions, a newly created Office of Nuclear Security and Incident Response (NSIR).
In those early days, the new NSIR team was working at a hectic pace, requiring faster responses – to Congress, the White House, the Office of Homeland Security (which later became the Department of Homeland Security) and the media — and a faster turnaround time than was usual at the agency. As NSIR took shape the time demands on the staff were intense. Many days NSIR staff would spend all day in meetings at the White House or at the newly founded Department of Homeland Security, and then come back to the office at 5 p.m. to spend the next two to three hours sharing with the rest of the team what had happened that day. Sixty to 70 hour work weeks were the norm.
The continual state of urgency of the requests from NSIR staff often caused challenges for the other parts of the agency, which were also running at a high rate of speed. It was always “I need it NOW” whenever an NSIR person came looking for assistance. In true team spirit however, the rest of the agency always responded no matter how short the turnaround time. In its first few years of existence, NSIR demands on staff meant shortened holiday celebrations, missed T-ball games and dance recitals, and generally less sleep.
In addition to doing the core mission work of NSIR, there was also a need to establish the office processes and procedures. Those who were part of the early days of NSIR described it as building the airplane while flying at 40,000 feet!
Eventually, the time pressure of the atmosphere eased a bit, but the demand for increased involvement on the federal level continued to grow. More resources were allocated and NSIR grew from an office of 50 to more than 200. NSIR management also began to recruit from outside the NRC and hired a number of staff with extensive backgrounds in law enforcement, military security and emergency preparedness to bring fresh ideas and approaches. The added staff helped with the workload and allowed for a better work/life balance. Office policies and procedures were completed and NSIR settled into becoming a more “regular” type of NRC office. With key support from the rest of the agency, NSIR was successful in its mission of enhancing safety and security.
As it begins its second decade of service, NSIR continues to be a vigilant watchdog of security, emergency preparedness, and incident response to ensure the safe operation of commercial nuclear power stations and fuel cycle facilities in the U.S.
Chief, Operating Reactor Licensing and Outreach Branch