Prepardness drill to simulate Oconee Nuclear coolant leak

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By Stan Welch

At ten a.m. Thursday morning the Anderson County Emergency Operations Center will become a beehive of activity, as a major emergency preparedness drill begins. A variety of local, state and federal agencies and organizations will participate in the drill, which will presume a coolant leak at the Oconee nuclear station.

In addition to approximately fifty county emergency preparedness staff, state and federal representatives, such as DHEC, FEMA, and civilian service organizations including the Red Cross, Salvation Army and United Way will also be involved.

An emergency at the Oconee station sets off prescribed protocols and response actions; in the case of this exercise, the evacuation of the ten mile Emergency Protection Zone. That will require the residents of Oconee County within that radius to evacuate to Anderson County, which will place an immediate and significant demand on the County’s emergency resources.

For example, shelter for thousands of potential evacuees will need to be available. As one result of that demand, area schools will be contacted and instructed to close. Later those same facilities may be reopened and used as shelters or feeding stations.

To reflect the unpredictable nature of such events, a simcell, or simulator, will inject circumstances that affect the planned response by altering situations. The injects are nuances and developments that add authenticity to the exercise by simulating the kinds of abrupt and unforeseeable events that always shape emergencies and the responses to them.

For example, a mass casualty even will be injected during the exercise, requiring a major EMS response as well as the closing of a major evacuation route. Military airplanes will have to be landed at the airport to receive and transport casualties.

Further adding to the authenticity of the drill, previously produced media reports will be injected into the process, appearing on the monitors in the joint information center of the EOC. Emergency Service Director Taylor Jones pointed out that in real time emergencies, media reports are monitored for accuracy and to be certain that the public receives proper instructions on where to go and when.

Among other actions that may or will be needed are the declaration of a state of emergency by the Anderson County Council; the opening of emergency shelters, and a request that area residents shelter in place to keep traffic on the roads to a minimum as first responders and evacuees are moving about the county.

The exercise is being conducted in preparation for a larger scale exercise slated for June of next year. The County relocated its EOC to the current site last year, seeking to consolidate and upgrade the operation.