U.S. NRC Blog

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Be Aware, Take Action to Prepare

Patricia Milligan
Senior Level Advisor for Emergency Preparedness
 

Be Disaster Aware, Take Action to PrepareSeptember is National Preparedness Month, a time each year to reflect on the importance of knowing what to do before, during and after an emergency. The first step in preparing is to know your hazard. Once you do, FEMA has a wealth of resources to help you plan.

If you live near a nuclear power plant, you probably know it has operated safely and securely for decades. You should still be prepared in the unlikely event of a plant emergency. The two most important things to know are:

1) if you hear a siren or alert, tune in for instructions from state or local officials, and

2) follow those instructions.

A key part of the NRC’s mission is to make sure adequate plans are in place to protect the health and safety of the public. We require plant operators to develop emergency preparedness plans and regularly practice carrying them out in emergency exercises that include first responders and local and other federal government agencies.

These exercises test the skills of those who would respond in a real emergency and identify any areas that need to be addressed. We assess the operators’ performance during exercises. As part of our regular inspections, we also make sure the operators’ emergency plans meet our requirements and are capable of protecting the public.

While the NRC holds to operator to account for their on-site performance, FEMA evaluates how well the offsite response organizations perform during exercises to ensure that they are meeting FEMA requirements.

If you live near an operating nuclear power plant, you should already know whether you work or reside in the “Emergency Planning Zone.” This information would come from your state or local government. You could also receive an annual mailing from the plant. The exact zones and their configurations depend on a number of factors, such as specific site conditions, population and local emergency response.

In the event of an emergency, the plant operator will be in close contact with state and local officials, including emergency responders. Local officials, not the NRC, will make decisions regarding the best course of action. These decisions will factor in technical information about the plant and the weather, as well as other details regarding local emergency plans. That is why it’s important to tune in to their instructions.

It is important to keep in mind that evacuation is not always the best course of action. Depending on your location, you may or may not be advised to take potassium iodide as a way to protect your thyroid. State and local officials are in the best position to make these decisions, so do not take action until you receive instruction from them.

If you want more information on emergency planning, see our website. For more information on National Preparedness Month, check out this website. And don’t forget that FEMA has set aside Sept. 30 for America’s PrepareAthon, an opportunity for everyone to prepare for specific hazards that might affect them.

7 responses to “Be Aware, Take Action to Prepare

  1. CaptD September 16, 2014 at 7:04 pm

    What plan does the NRC have should the USA suffer a massive Solar Flare or EMP “strike” caused by Nature or man?

    Are our reactors and all their control systems “hardened” against EMP (like military aircraft) and if not, why not?

  2. richard123456columbia September 16, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    If I understand this right, a emergency happens no one is told about it till a group in charge finds out the wind direction from 10ft to 20,000ft(I do not know how) because an explosion lifts material high into the atmosphere. Also wait for readings to analyze the danger and if there is danger send trucks out with bull horns telling people to evacuate the area as the streets fill up with cars that may prevent the bull horns from moving because the public is calling friends and relatives all over the city that they are told to evacuate. This seems silly to me,.

  3. dick0645 September 16, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    Yes we need to be aware so we can take appropriate action. To be aware we need to be informed. How can we be informed if you keep secrets from us?! For example, the NRC and the Army Corps of Engineers have info on just how bad flooding would be on the Missouri River if old earthen dams fail. Why is this need-to-know info being kept from us?!

  4. richard123456columbia September 16, 2014 at 11:54 am

    If the cause of the emergency takes out power to the communications what should one do. Should the elderly or injured in nursing homes or hospitals be moved. When it is required to evacuate how could this be done in high populated areas. The statement of staying in place makes me think that will be the orders from now on because it will be the safest compared to being on foot after the traffic jam. The best would be to get as far away from the plant because pro nukes say the radiation disperses with distance(I do not believe that). Still the best would be far away where the radiation will not get to.

    • Moderator September 16, 2014 at 4:43 pm

      The licensee must be able to contact local, state, and federal officials in an emergency, even when the power goes out. The licensee would use backup means to notify offsite responders and alert them to the need for public protective actions. The responders would activate the alert and notification system to notify the public. Offsite responders also have a backup means of alerting the public should it be required—generally by public service vehicles driving through communities and providing warnings with loud speakers but also including other methods such as Reverse 911™. Neither of these backup means of communication require AC power from the local utility. The Federal Emergency Management Agency evaluates the primary and backup alert systems.

      Each jurisdiction in the emergency preparedness zone develops and maintains emergency plans and procedures for implementing protective action for all segments of the population. These procedures provide for actions to protect residents of nursing homes, patients in hospitals, students in schools, people with mobility constraints and visitors. Annually, offsite responders provide public information mailings that explain what to do if an evacuation is ordered. FEMA evaluates these plans.

      The licensees and responders work together to establish protective action recommendations and decisions for the emergency planning zone. In an emergency, the licensee would recommend protective actions to offsite responders, who would evaluate, and possibly change, the recommendation—whether it’s sheltering in place, evacuation, or administration of potassium iodide to protect the thyroid. The most important action on the part of the public is, when alerted, to continue to listen to local radio and TV stations for instructions from local officials, then act on those instructions.

      Local officials will have the best information about the location of any radioactive material released in an emergency, and the concentrations of that material in different locations. Those concentrations will depend on a number of factors – including wind speed and direction and distance. That information is an important consideration in any public protection actions that would be recommended. For example, officials might order an evacuation from certain areas but not from others. It is essential that people listen for these recommendations and follow them—to minimize unnecessary traffic tie-ups and ensure those in the areas with the greatest potential risk can move to safer locations.

      Stephen LaVie, Senior Emergency Preparedness Specialist

      • Dan Williamson September 17, 2014 at 9:35 am

        Mr. LaVie, I appreciate your diligence in providing a comprehensive answer to the anonymous commenter. But since, by his own confession, his ideological blindness has trumped the ability to understand a basic law of physics (it’s not just something dreamed up by the “pro nukes”), I’m afraid you’re engaged in a futile effort. His assigned mission for the day has been fulfilled in the contamination of this posting and delivery of yet another FUD bomb – botched grammar notwithstanding.

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