FEMA Tests Preparedness of Tex. First Responders
Aug. 22—The biennial safety and preparedness testing drills that FEMA oversees at nuclear power plants around all over the United States resulted in no major glitches last week for Somervell County and Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant, according to Somervell County Sheriff Alan West.
FEMA's latest Radiological Emergency Preparedness Program (REP) was conducted on Wednesday, Aug. 16, with the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) inside the Somervell County Sheriff's Department as the communications hub.
In addition to sheriff's deputies and communications personnel, the EOC was filled by numerous other local officials including County Judge Danny Chambers, Somervell County Fire Chief Mark Crawford, Department of Public Safety Sergeant Dub Gillum, Granbury ISD Superintendent Wayne Rotan, Glen Rose Medical Center (GRMC) CEO Ray Reynolds, Granbury Mayor Sue Oldenburg, City Manager Chester Nolen, and a representative from the nuclear plant, Patrick Allen.
Also, representatives from the Texas Department of State Health Services, Texas Department of Emergency Management and the Texas Department of Transportation. Three representatives from FEMA were on hand to record the grading process.
West's Chief Deputy Dwayne Griffin, who is also the county's Emergency Management Coordinator, said, "We also have the ability to call in state resources if the judge declares a county disaster."
Griffin said the simulated (imaginary) emergency scenario presented by FEMA for that drill session was called in to the county's 9-1-1 dispatch starting at 8 a.m.
"This year we had three exercises for Comanche Peak. The phones never stop ringing," Griffin said of the drill scenario, which was terminated at 12:47 that afternoon.
"It's a joint effort where everybody is working together to protect the community and our citizens," Sheriff West said. "I was very impressed by the team effort that the EOC and the staff worked together. In the drill, we had a local emergency as well."
West said that Allen, from Comanche Peak, acted as the "controller" for the imaginary emergency scenarios that unfold as the "script" local agencies must react to in order to earn a satisfactory grade.
The imaginary situation involved an 18-wheeler hauling chlorine that overturned and caught fire on the steel bridge east of Glen Rose on U.S. Highway 67—also hitting a passenger car.
The scenario presented in the staged 9-1-1 call also had an additional complication. The car struck by the 18-wheeler then tumbled into the river, prompting the need for a secondary reaction from first responders—a swift-water rescue.
"They just want to see that we can protect the citizens," Griffin stated "FEMA had nothing but praises (for the county response). They said we performed very well. They grade every nuclear plant in the U.S., and they were very impressed with the way we handled it."
Griffin noted that a key component for the drills is to help ensure that officials from Comanche Peak, Somervell County and surrounding counties have "one voice" in the event of a major catastrophe affecting or involving the Comanche Peak plant.
West mentioned that the EOC can also be activated for major emergencies such as large fires, fuel spills or weather catastrophies including floods and tornadoes.
The readiness drills feature potential evacuation scenarios that could include all 1,800 students from local schools, along with nursing homes and GRMC.
"The school does evacuation drills on their own," Griffin noted. "They can have every student on a bus in less than 15 minutes, and driving off."
Special buses, known as Ambuses because they can serve as medical vehicles for multiple patients during an emergency evacuation, stand ready for those who have special medical needs or are in wheelchairs or are bedridden.
The FEMA testing also covers the CodeRed system, which sends alerts about disasters to local residents via land lines, cell phones and email.
"Sirens are merely for outdoor warning purposes," Griffin explained. "What we rely on for (residents who are indoors) is CodeRed. We have all the land lines (connected), but if people want to register their cell phone they can go to the county website."
He added that anyone who does not have Internet access can come to the Sheriff's Department for assistance in registering. They can also use one of the computers at the Somervell County Library to go online to the Somervell County website.
After the end of the emergency response part of the drill comes what is known as the "hot wash," according to Griffin. That's when Judge Chambers will ask each official in the EOC if they have any questions or input. They also had a debriefing at the Hood County Sheriff's Office in Granbury the following day.
Areas within a 10-mile radius of Comanche Peak are considered to be within the Area of Required Corrective Action for any concerns uncovered by the testing and drills.
For Comanche Peak, that radius extends several miles into southern Hood County. It requires that the county judges in Somervell and Hood County stay in communication to coordinate action in case of an actual emergency.
Each official participating in the exercise takes notes that are given to FEMA, which makes a timeline of their written comments.
Usually the Sheriff's Department will be notified of its grade for the exercise by FEMA within about 30 days.