The American Red Cross hsost an emergency shelter at the Twin Valley High School in Wilmington. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer file photo)
The American Red Cross hsost an emergency shelter at the Twin Valley High School in Wilmington. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer file photo)
Monday October 22, 2012

Editor's Note: This is the sixth in a series of stories dealing with emergency preparedness in the 10-mile evacuation zone around Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.

BRATTLEBORO -- The National Red Cross will play an integral part if an emergency is ever declared at Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon.

As with a natural disaster, such as a hurricane or earthquake, the Red Cross will help staff reception centers, help those who need shelter to find it and make sure people can connect with their loved ones, said Scott Graham, the East Area Director for Disaster Services for the American Red Cross.

Graham's area of responsibility stretches from Virginia to Maine and includes Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

At any emergency response facility, such as the reception centers for people evacuated from the 10-mile emergency preparedness zone around Yankee, the Red Cross has the same role and responsibility, said Graham.

"We also provide mass care to people in a shelter and support first responders," he said.

The Red Cross is active in planning and drills wherever a nuclear power plant is located in the United States, said Graham. It also contributes to after-action reviews, critiquing the response plan and pointing out shortcomings that need to be addressed, he said.

The Vermont & New Hampshire Valley chapter of the American Red Cross recently completed an evaluation of the plan and concluded it doesn't have the resources necessary to fulfill its role in case of an evacuation of the EPZ.

"At present, there is a significant gap between what the plan calls for and what the Red Cross can reasonably provide in the way of material equipment and staffing," said Larry Crist, regional executive of the chapter, during a September meeting of the Vermont Nuclear State Advisory Panel.

He is requesting more than $700,000 from the state's Radiological Emergency Response Plan fund that is supplied by Entergy, which owns and operates Yankee.

That money will be used to purchase cots, blankets, walkers and vehicles and will also be used to pay for training and shelter location efforts.

The Red Cross has resources around the country that can be used in any type of emergency, including a release of radiation from a nuclear reactor,

"We have a large number of volunteers across the country -- about 70,000," he said. "In the event of general emergency we would be sending in a lot of additional help."

It has about 500,000 cots and 2 million shelf-stable meals in its inventory, but that doesn't mean it could get any of those materials to Crist overnight, said Graham.

Even though Crist doesn't have to respond "in isolation," said Graham, "It's important that Larry and his team have the capacity to initiate and sustain the initial response until the additional resources arrive."

In New Hampshire, the Red Cross' response is crucial because the Granite State doesn't operate any shelters, said Jim Van Dongen, public information officer for the N.H. Department of Safety, Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

"The Red Cross is integral," he said. "It's true for all emergencies, though they don't do it alone."

The Red Cross works with nonprofits, churches and municipal agencies to evaluate and prepare shelters for use, he said.

In New Hampshire, five towns, in whole or just a portion, are in the EPZ around Yankee -- Hinsdale, Chesterfield, Winchester, Richmond and Swanzey.

As in other EPZs around the country, emergency managers use a rough estimate of 20 percent of the evacuees needing shelter, said Van Dongen. There are about 15,000 people in the EPZ, which means about 3,000 might need shelter.

"Rarely that many people need sheltering," he said. "Though they do need processing through the reception center."

The reception center for any emergency at Yankee is Keene, N.H., High School, which would be set up and operated by the Department of Health and Human Services, said Van Dongen.

The reception center in Massachusetts will be located at Greenfield Community College.

"The Red Cross is involved in the reception center," said Peter Judge, public information for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. "We train with them, even though the school is the lead on it."

The total population in the Massachusetts EPZ -- which includes all of or portions of Leyden, Bernardston, Greenfield, Gill, Northfield and Warwick -- is about 11,000, said Judge.

He said Massachusetts also estimates 20 percent of the people in the EPZ will need sheltering.

"The majority will stay with friends or relatives," he said. "That being said, we have a great number of short-term shelters in communities farther away."

In a long-term situation, said Judge, the Bay State would rely on FEMA to bring its resources to bear.

As part of its ongoing obligation to make sure those who might need help in times of emergency get the help they need, the Red Cross continuously assesses its capabilities and what its needs are to accomplish the roles and responsibilities it has, said Graham.

The Red Cross responds to 70,000 events a year, from a single-home fire to hurricanes, he said, and it has supplies and materials scattered around locations across the United States.

It also has a database of shelters that is updated on a continual basis, he said.

"We evaluate every shelter to make sure they are in the right location, are safe and have the right equipment," said Graham.

In addition, the Red Cross works with local and state governments to insure its resources are adequate for the demands that might be placed upon it in times of emergency.

Shelters can be anything, including churches or a government facility, but more often than not, said Graham, the best shelters are schools, which have large areas that can accommodate a number of cots, showers, kitchens and other amenities.

The number of shelters in any given year is dependent on geography and population, said Graham. For example, there are 600 designated shelters in New York City alone, which might be called upon in case of an accident at Indian Point nuclear power plant in the Hudson Valley.

Even though the Red Cross is called upon across the nation to help out, it gets very little money from government sources, said Graham.

"The majority of our funding comes from private donations," he said. "We have very limited government support. Most comes from individuals, corporations and foundations."

To learn more about the Red Cross, visit redcross.org.

In Tuesday's Reformer, how long would we have to evacuate following a serious accident at Vermont Yankee?