Thursday August 15, 2013

The Vermont Radiological Emergency Response Plan (RERP) program is part of the Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (DEMHS). By statute the RERP is "developed to provide assistance to state and local officials in responding to a radiological incident at the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station."

Simply put, the RERP program provides equipment, training and other support to the towns in the 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone (EPZ) to protect its citizens in the event of an incident at the plant. In Vermont, the EPZ towns include Vernon, Halifax, Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford and Marlboro.

DEMHS develops the overarching state plan, which charts out overall response and recovery, staging of resources, notification of an incident, reception centers, and traffic and access control. Local plans are specific to schools, nursing homes or assisted living facilities, childcare center, and any summer camps or campgrounds. Those plans are reviewed and revised every year.

Exercises are held quarterly to test the plans and a graded exercise is conducted every two years and evaluated by the federal government to ensure the plan meets statutory requirements. The latest graded exercise took place in June of 2013. Vermont scored high marks while identifying some small areas for improvement.

The RERP should not be confused with other state plans that set forth guidelines for operating Vermont Yankee. The RERP only address preparedness, response, and recovery OUTSIDE the Vermont Yankee boundary.

The overall response spelled out in the RERP is not much different than any other incident like a flood or hurricane. However, there are different hazards involved so special preparations are made. Potassium Iodide is available to all residents of the Emergency Planning Zone to protect the thyroid should there be a radiological release, and the Reception Center is equipped with monitoring and decontamination equipment should anyone become contaminated with radioactive material.

Another difference is the formalized classification levels for emergencies in a nuclear power plant incident. Should there be an incident you may hear one of these classifications in media releases and on social media.

UNUSUAL EVENT (UE):

This means a minor problem has occurred at the plant. It may involve injury to a worker, hazardous weather or an equipment problem. Public officials would be notified, but there would be no need to notify the public. People in the area would not need to take any special actions.

ALERT: Alert indicates that events are in progress or have occurred that could affect plant safety but it is not expected to require any special actions by residents. Public officials would be notified. They would watch the situation and be ready to act if it got worse. As a precaution, public officials may mobilize transportation resources. They may transfer school children to host facilities outside the area and clear state forests and waterways. Emergency Alert System radio or news broadcasts would inform the public of these actions.

SITE AREA EMERGENCY (SAE): Site Area Emergency indicates a more serious problem affecting the plant and plant boundaries has occurred. Any release of radioactive materials from the plant would be below federal limits. State and local officials would keep persons in the area fully informed about any necessary actions through Emergency Alert System radio stations. As a precaution, public officials would transfer school children to host facilities outside the area if this had not already been done. Other precautions would be called for by state officials, as needed.

GENERAL EMERGENCY (GE): General Emergency indicates the most serious type of emergency. It could involve serious damage to the plant and the release of radioactive materials. State officials might direct persons in some areas to shelter-in-place or evacuate to a safer location. Warning signals would notify persons in the area. Special instructions and other important information would be issued over the Emergency Alert System radio stations.

DEMHS RERP staff is always available to answer any questions from the public and our web site spells out much more information: http://vem.vermont.gov/rerp.

Erica Bornemann oversees the Planning Section at DEMHS, including the Radiological Emergency Response Plan Program. Her oversight includes the Radiological Emergency Response Plan Program Fund and assisting local jurisdictions in emergency planning initiatives and preparedness.