County EMA receives perfect score in simulated terrorist attack

LISBON – The Columbiana County’s Emergency Management Agency received a perfect score from federal officials grading the EMA’s response to last week’s simulated terrorist attack on a nearby nuclear power plant.

“We don’t look at as an A, B, C grade. We look at it as they met the intent of the drill,” said Dwaine Warren of the drill. Warren, who is from the Chicago office of the Federal EMA, served as exercise director for the three-day drill and praised the EMA for having a nearly flawless performance.

Speaking at a news conference, Warren delivered a preliminary assessment of the county EMA’s emergency response plan. He reported observers determined all 20 of the major test criteria were met, along with all 140 possible points of evaluation.

“There were no deficiencies whatsoever,” nor any missteps that would require a retest of any portion of the plan, he said.

All counties within 10 miles of the nuclear power plant in Shippingport, Pa., are required to have an emergency response plan, and the southern and eastern portions of the county fall within that zone. The plan, used as a template for all of the EMA’s response plans, must be tested every two years.

This year’s drill is the first time it involved a terrorist attack, which was added to the list of possible testing scenarios following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. This scenario involved a commercial cargo plane being flown into the nuclear plant, taking out a portion of the electrical switch yard building and the building where spent radioactive material is stored.

Other scenarios are interjected as the drill unfolds to test the plan and participants’ ability to cope with a changing situation. In this particular exercise, there was a release of radioactive water confined to the plant, but the EMA took a number of precautionary steps in case the situation worsened and resulted in the possible evacuation of county residents within the zone.

This included the Beaver Local High School auditorium and Negley fire station being opened as reception areas for possible evacuees, who would be tested to determine if they had any radioactive exposure and then treated. The Red Cross also opened a shelter at McKinley Elementary School in Lisbon for evacuees to stay if necessary.

While all of this was going on there were two truck “accidents,” one resulting in a substantial diesel fuel spill requiring the hazmat team be called and another blocking traffic along an evacuation route.

Other agencies involved in the drill were:

– County health department and the Lisbon and West Point fire departments, which staffed the decontamination center at Beaver Local

– New Waterford Fire Department, which assisted at the Negley fire station.

– Liverpool Township Fire Department, which responded to the faux truck accidents.

– County sheriff’s office and highway patrol, which provided traffic control.

– State agriculture department, to assess possible threats to local agriculture.

– Amateur radio operators, who helped maintain communications between all of the parties.

This was the first test of the nuclear emergency response plan since Luke Newbold was hired last year as the county’s new EMA director, and he was obviously pleased with the results.

“We’re very happy with our successful exercise,” he said.

Newbold went on to thank his staff and the agencies and volunteers who participated in the drill.