Every nuclear energy facility in the country has a detailed plan for responding to an emergency, and emergency operations facilities (EOFs) are an integral part of these plans. Demonstrating their commitment to emergency preparedness, FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co. (FENOC) built new EOFs for each of their three plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania, which are used to facilitate public health and safety activities during an emergency.
“A lot of thought and effort went into the design of these facilities to make sure they would meet the needs of both our employees as well as the local, state and federal agencies we would work with during an emergency,” Glenn McKee, FENOC’s fleet emergency preparedness manager said.
In the event of a plant emergency, FENOC staff would use the facility to notify local, state and federal emergency organizations and recommend protective action for the local community if needed. The company would also continuously monitor radiation levels throughout the event from the EOF and regularly provide this and other technical information to key external organizations responsible for keeping the public safe.
FENOC equipped each 12,000 square-foot emergency operations facility with state-of-the-art technologies that aid in timely monitoring and collection of environmental data; a secured, online database for accurately sharing plant conditions in real-time; and several types of telecommunications equipment to enhance communications capabilities. Redundant and backup power supplies ensure the facility will not be affected by an electrical outage.
The new EOFs replace existing facilities located on-site, and are strategically located roughly 10 miles away from each plant site.
“While our decision to replace and relocate the facilities was made before the Fukushima accident in Japan, the event ultimately reinforced the need for an off-site facility from which to manage an emergency response,” McKee said.
FENOC chose locations convenient for the organizations they partner with for emergency response, which include county and state emergency management and environmental protection officials, as well as representatives from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The locations were also selected because they are served by strong telecom infrastructure, such as fiber optic cables and phone lines, and ease of access to air and road networks.
“In the event of an emergency, we could walk out of our building right onto the tarmac and onto a helicopter that could take emergency responders to the plant,” McKee said. The other two EOFs (supporting FENOC’s Perry and Davis-Besse nuclear energy facilities in Ohio) are surrounded by open areas that have the space necessary for helicopter landings, he added.
The facilities are designed using a “command table” format that places key staff members from several plant departments and representatives from external organizations at a large table in the middle of the facility. Each official’s support staff is positioned directly behind him or her, enabling effective and timely communication.
“We give outside agencies prime location in our facilities and access to everything that goes on,” McKee said. “We put them in the middle of the flow so that they can see all of the same information that we do, in real-time.”
The facilities will be used for periodic training drills as well as full-scale emergency response exercises that are evaluated by the NRC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency every two years. These drills test a portion of the facility’s internal emergency response organization, while the federal exercises typically test coordination and communication between the facility and other third parties.
Two of FENOC’s new emergency operations facilities have already been utilized during NRC-evaluated biennial emergency response exercises. BeaverValley’s new facility, which was completed in March 2012, was used during the plant’s exercise in June, while Perry’s new facility, completed in July 2012, was used during the October exercise. Davis-Besse’s new EOF was completed this month and will be used for its first integrated training drill in November.
An official from the Ohio Emergency Management Agency who participated in the Beaver Valley exercise weighed in on the new facility, saying, “Everything I needed was at my fingertips.”
In fact, officials in Beaver County, Pa., were so impressed by the EOF that they requested to use it as a back-up to the county emergency operations center should it be unavailable in a non-nuclear event.
“Emergency operations facilities play a critical role in protecting the health and safety of the public in the event of an emergency,” McKee said. “The new EOFs underscore our commitment to emergency preparedness and ensure that we fully uphold our responsibility to the community.”