BRATTLEBORO -- On Sept. 10, 2012, Larry Crist, the regional executive of the American Red Cross, Vermont & the New Hampshire Upper Valley, went before the Vermont State Nuclear Advisory Panel during a meeting in Vernon to voice his concerns over what he saw were the shortcomings in the state's radiological emergency response plan.
He told the members of VSNAP more than $727,000 was needed to fund the Red Cross' role in the plan, which includes finding shelter for up to 6,000 people who live in the emergency preparedness zone around Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, which is located in Vernon.
"Current funding priorities do not adequately address the RERP's largest component with the longest duration -- sheltering and feeding," Crist said at the meeting.
HOW PREPARED ARE WE?
"Evacuation will be completed in hours, whereas the duration of sheltering will be days/weeks/months," states a flyer handed out at the VSNAP meeting. "The RERP envisions a level of sheltering far beyond any other state plan formulated to respond to disaster and far outstrips the private resources of the Red Cross."
The problem, according to Crist, was that the Red Cross was only prepared to support 3,000 people, and even that was questionable, given the realities of emergency planning following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011.
"This was a situation where the Red Cross and the state took a hard look at what many folks thought was OK, but discovered was not as sound as we believed it to be," said Crist on Thursday. "We took the new information from Fukushima, looked at the state plan with a fresh perspective and recognized its shortcomings. We identified those shortcomings and came up with a common-sense strategy to address them."
Today, Crist and Erica Bornemann, emergency management planning section chief for the Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, will be going before the Senate Committee on Government Operations to explain the Red Cross' portion of the budget. Following that meeting, they will go before the Senate Appropriations Committee to ask for a budget adjustment.
When Bornemann first presented the response plan budget for fiscal year 2014, which begins on July 1, 2013, to the governor's office, it was in the amount of $2.4 million, up from $2.3 million for fiscal year 2013.
But following some confusing signals from FEMA, the budget proposal was increased to $2.7 million to reflect a two-year funding plan for upgrades to the Red Cross' response capabilities.
Joe Flynn, the director of the Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, which is part of the Department of Public Safety, said last year FEMA issued new standards calling for sheltering requirements for 5 percent of the population in the EPZ. Because of that change, the initial budget request that went to the Legislature called for a $53,000 disbursement to Red Cross.
After the budget recommendation was submitted to the Legislature, FEMA indicated it makes more sense to prepare for 20 percent of the population, or 6,000 people in Vermont Yankee's case, though it hasn't put it in writing yet, said Flynn.
The result Flynn is recommending, and the governor's office has agreed, that Red Cross should get $344,375 in FY2014 and $426,743 in FY2015.
"We agreed a two-year plan is a good, reasonable way to hit the ground running," said Jim Reardon, the commissioner of the Department of Finance and Management.
This is higher than any previous budget allocation for Red Cross, he said.
"It was driven in part by the change in FEMA guidance and the retraction," said Reardon.
"We've never gotten more than a few thousand dollars a year," said Crist. "This is more than any Red Cross in any state has gotten relative to nuclear power."
In 2012, Red Cross requested $92,000, but only received $725. In 2011, it requested $39,120, was told to resubmit a request for $6,161 and then received nothing. In 2010, it requested $392,695 but only received $9,200, with the money targeted for a statewide digital radio upgrade, which was not part of the Red Cross' request.
The funding of the RERP comes from Entergy, which owns and operates Yankee, after emergency management reviews requests from the towns in the EPZ and emergency response agencies such as the Red Cross, Rescue Inc. and the Windham County Sheriff's Department.
Though Entergy had been involved in most of the budget process, said Bornemann, "We really stopped a continuing coordinated effort with them back in December because it was clear the situation was dynamic due to the changes in the standard and what we thought we needed to be able to achieve this. We focused our efforts on coming to a conclusion in this budget process."
Flynn said despite the lack of communication between the state and Entergy over the past few months, the corporation and its representatives have been "good partners."
"Once you start developing the budget it's a closed effort until the governor releases it to the Legislature," he said. "That had nothing to do with keeping information from them. It has to do with the internal process."
Rob Williams, spokesman for Yankee, said since the development of radiological emergency plans, Entergy has continued to fund all incremental costs of emergency planning that are reasonable and prudent.
However, he said, this request by the Red Cross for additional funding appears to have no basis.
"It would be unlike any other state and far exceeds the funding necessary to meet the responsibilities of the Red Cross for radiological emergency planning," said Williams.
Crist's request includes items such as a planning and coordination deputy ($59,000) and assistant ($54,000), as well as a volunteer coordinator ($54,000). However, a large portion of the money is needed to provide for materials such as regular cots, at $129,000, medical cots, at $54,000, and four vehicles, at $100,000. The Red Cross also needs $47,520 for the blankets that will go along with the additional cots and $3,840 for walkers.
In addition, the Red Cross will need to hire two full-time staffers for on-going coordination and preparation activities and to identify new shelter locations.
Over the years, Red Cross basically just signed off on the response plan, said Flynn, but then Crist came along and took a hard look at all the numbers.
"He had the courage to say we can't do what we said we could do, and surely not 20 percent," said Flynn.
"I have been thinking about this for years," said Crist.
Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations, said she doesn't doubt the Red Cross request is appropriate.
"When Larry took over, he really started looking at this and what it really means," said White. "He has done his homework."
She said Entergy representatives won't be happy with the proposal.
"They're going to yell and scream," said White. "But they've known for a long time this has been going on and they've seen the numbers and knew it was a real possibility the administration would put this in the budget. They might say they don't want to do it, but they have to fund it."
White also said Flynn and Bornemann spent a lot of time evaluating Red Cross' request and she expects they will have all their ducks in a row during today's hearing.
"It's taken a long time for emergency management to make sure they are really on sound footing in order to present this," said White.
"Entergy can contest the amount, but we've never come to a point where we have had Entergy contest the amount that is being requested," said Bornemann. "We have a really good working relationship with them."
Crist said the process led to a collective understanding of what needs to be done to accomplish two things.
"First, to ensure the plant can continue to comply with federal guidelines relating to emergency preparedness and second, to ensure that we will be able to take care of all of the Vermonters who live in the EPZ in the event of a serious problem at the plant."
But, warned Crist, to keep the Red Cross' plan current will probably require $250,000 each year going forward starting in fiscal year 2016.
"We need a large infusion on the front end to put infrastructure in place but then there are ongoing costs to maintain it," he said.
The goal for the first year is to get equipment ordered and onsite for seven additional shelters, said Crist.
That's because during the whole budgeting process, one hard realization has come home for all involved: Sending evacuees to a reception center prior to directing them to a shelter won't work.
"We are not going to have people go there to find out what shelter to go to," said Crist. "We are going to work with communities to pre-identify shelter sites. And we want shelter sites to be at least 50 miles from the plant. We're not going to move them multiple times as happened with Fukushima.
Bob Audette can be reached at email@example.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.