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Callaway officials prepare for the worst

Callaway officials prepare for the worst

July 11th, 2014 in News

Callaway County officials and emergency personnel met Thursday morning to practice what they would do if the Callaway Energy Center ever experienced a nuclear disaster.

In the annual drill, they took safety steps as the exercise progressed from a site-area emergency (contained to the plant) to a general emergency (expanded off site) after the reactor's cooling system hypothetically experienced a leak.

The Fulton Police Department and Callaway County Sheriff's Office simulated calling in their evening and midnight shifts for back up while assessing roadways. The Fulton Fire Department contacted three fire departments in the area among other actions. Ambulance leaders called local hospitals to see how many patients they could care for. Fulton city officials simulated fixing a problem with a gas line and taking care of other utility issues. Transportation acted as if it was ready to move those with disabilities.

Callaway County commissioners made judgment calls on areas to evacuate in the fake scenario, assessing routes to decontamination sites - the Hearnes Center on the University of Missouri campus via I-70, Lincoln University via U.S. Highway 54 and Hermann via 94 to 19. They had to factor in wind direction, which changed from traveling southwest to blowing east out of the west at 5 mph. Commissioners analyzed a map showing the two-mile, five-mile and 10-mile radii from the nuclear plant as the leak spread passed barriers.

More measures were taken as the "situation" grew more serious.

Callaway County Emergency Operations Center Director Michelle Kidwell and Deputy Director Liz Basnett communicated updates on the leak status among others from the state.

In the midst of it all, law enforcement was given an additional challenge - a bank robbery. These add-ons to the drill happen every year to give it an extra element.

Kidwell said the drill gives county officials face time, a chance to network, problem solve and plan.

"In a real event it makes the response that much better," Kidwell said.

Ameren Engineer Aaron Weaks said it's "all about protecting the public during a real emergency."

In any emergency, Kidwell said emergency responders would go into situations prioritizing the protection of life and property, safety of emergency responders and stability of the environment.

Jim Kammerer, a radiological systems maintenance supervisor with Missouri State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), said he noticed improvements made by Callaway EOC, but added there are always room for more improvement to make the process more streamlined and efficient.

Kammerer and Kidwell anticipate a new web-based emergency management system will help do just that.

The system, called Web-EOC, has been installed at Callaway Joint Communications since October 2013 and other counties in the state started utilizing the program in early January, according to Kidwell. Local, regional and state officials can communicate on Web-EOC.

The database hosts everything emergency responders and officials will need to know in an emergency, including:

•Resource requests so officials can track the resource from when the order is placed to when it's being delivered;

•Activity logs to show actions of emergency personnel and officials;

•Priority setting to display what's most important at the time; (Kammerer said life safety issues are typically first on the list.)

•Mapping of the situation to provide visuals of things like road closures;

•Contact directory;

•Damage assessments;

•Chats/instant messaging.

Kidwell said Web-EOC allows decision makers to "be on the same page" as it creates "situational awareness." She led two classes for those at the drill on Thursday and plans to have another in August.

When time is of the essence, Kammerer said Web-EOC cuts down on the delay time that comes with using phone systems and fax machines. While those tools are still necessary, Web-EOC increases inter-connectivity and communication.

"It has so much that we used to have to do the "snail way' as we call it," Kammerer said.

Kammerer said SEMA sends letters in February offering nuclear disaster training to facilities such as daycares, schools and fire departments. Those facilities are not required to participate but the knowledge cuts down on questions and confusion, Kammerer said.

"We encourage them (to participate)," he said. "It's better to have someone who knows what's going on."

For more information, go to sema.dps.mo.gov and search "Radiological Emergency Preparedness Program."