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.

Like a Good Boy Scout, We’re Always Prepared

Diane Screnci
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Region I
 

Because emergency preparedness is so important to the agency’s mission, the NRC has requirements to ensure nuclear power plant operators — and the NRC staff — are prepared to respond to events. And our rules require plants to have up-to-date emergency plans.

The NRC shares federal oversight of nuclear power plant emergency preparedness with FEMA. States have the overall authority for making protective action decisions for residents in the area, such as sheltering and evacuation, if there is an event at a plant. Local emergency responders also have an important role in protecting the public.

Region I incident response personnel participate in an exercise.
Region I incident response personnel participate in an exercise.

Plants must practice their emergency plans periodically to make sure plant staff is prepared to deal with a radiological emergency. Every other year, both the NRC and FEMA evaluate emergency response exercises at each operating plant, with both the state and local emergency responders participating.

NRC inspectors monitor the on-site response. They watch over the shoulders of operators and emergency responders to assure they’re correctly evaluating conditions, taking appropriate steps to deal with the reactor conditions and communicating well with off-site agencies, including the NRC. FEMA evaluates the efforts of state and local governments, and emergency responders.

The NRC staff must also be prepared to respond to an emergency. So several times a year, we participate in exercises, too. For example, the NRC’s region I recently participated in an emergency exercise for which we sent a site team to participate alongside plant emergency responders, and state and local emergency response agencies. We had staff in the various emergency facilities, including the simulator, the plant’s emergency operations facility, the joint news center and the state operations center. We also staffed our own incident response center in the Regional Office.

Participating in exercises gives us a chance to practice how we’d respond in an actual event. That means the NRC staff monitors and independently assesses reactor conditions, performs dose calculations, and reviews protective action recommendations. We also “issue” press releases, participate in mock news conferences, and interact with federal and state officials, and local emergency management agencies.

Afterwards, we take a look at what worked, and what didn’t go so well, and make changes to our procedures so that we’re continually improving.

We also learn from real events, like Hurricane Sandy, and put those lessons into place, so that the next time, we’re even better prepared.