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Emergency responders to conduct drill at Beaver Valley nuclear power station

LISBON – Columbiana County emergency responders can expect an emergency at the Beaver Valley nuclear power station next week, but it’s only a drill to practice what to do if a real issue occurs.

“We need to ensure that all of our responders understand what their responsibilities would be in the unlikely event there was a problem at the nuclear power plant,” county Emergency Management Agency Director Peggy Clark said.

Residents can expect to see lots of vehicles, emergency personnel and other responders at several locations in the county throughout the week testing various aspects of an emergency response. They may hear some limited radio traffic, too, all with the caveat “this is a drill.”

County personnel and responders are required to conduct the drill every two years due to the county’s proximity to the Beaver Valley Power Station in Shippingport, Pa. Communities in the southeastern part of the county fall within the plant’s 10-mile emergency planning zone. Simultaneous drills will also occur in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Clark explained that evaluators from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 5 headquartered in Chicago, Ill. will provide the scenario, such as a plume of radioactive material being released, and grade the county emergency personnel based on their response to the emergency.

“This is what helps us prepare for other events that happen in the county,” she said.

The train disaster in East Palestine last year was a prime example, with emergency responders putting their practice sessions to real use, especially when a shelter had to be set up at East Palestine High School.

The drill begins Monday at the Middleton Township Fire Department on Richardson Avenue in Negley where an emergency worker decontamination center will be demonstrated.

Then on Tuesday, the sheriff’s office will demonstrate traffic and access control points, followed by an interview with East Liverpool City Schools on how the district would respond and then interviews with radio personnel regarding communications at the county Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

The initial notification about a problem will come through the sheriff’s office dispatch center Tuesday evening, with Clark saying a phone call will notify the county of an issue with the nuclear power plant. No one, including Clark, will know what the scenario will be until that phone call.

“We’ll have to react accordingly to what the problem is,” she said.

Some of those actions will include activating the EOC, coordinating with first responders and coordinating with the state of Ohio and the Beaver Valley power station, whose personnel will be tested also.

The EOC includes members of the EMA staff, the county commissioners, the American Red Cross, health department, the sheriff’s office, Ohio State Highway Patrol, school services, fire, EMS, utilities, Community Emergency Response Team and radio personnel. The executive team, which makes decisions, includes Clark, the sheriff, the county engineer and the county commissioners.

On Wednesday, a care center at East Palestine High School on West Grant Street, East Palestine will be demonstrated, along with a reception center at the Beaver Local Sports Complex on state Route 7, Lisbon.

Also on Wednesday, a part of the drill only done every eight years will occur known as the quadruple R: Relocation, Re-entry, Return and Reoccupany. RRRR deals with long-term discussion on how to get people back to their homes and what to do if they can’t go back for an extended time.

On Friday at 11 a.m., a FEMA representative will announce the results of the biennial exercise on how to deal with a simulated incident at the power plant.

During the exercise in 2022, the county passed with flying colors, demonstrating that local emergency responders know what to do if a disaster happens.

Clark said she’s expecting 430 different participants throughout the week of testing. These drills have been happening for 40 plus years, starting in 1979 after the Three Mile Island disaster and the subsequent creation of FEMA. More than 20,000 county residents live in the emergency planning zone that’s within 10 miles of the Beaver Valley power station.

The different levels of emergency include an unusual event, which is the lowest, an alert, a site area emergency and a general emergency. Typically the scenario is a general emergency.

The Beaver Valley power station provides some funding for the county EMA, which also relies on grant funding, to support the work done for training and exercises to plan for an emergency. The drills are required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Clark said even though the likelihood of a problem at the nuclear power plant is very very low, she said these evaluated exercises help everybody be prepared for other events, whether there’s a tornado, hazardous material spill or natural disaster.

The drill helped immensely the night of the East Palestine train derailment because everybody already knew what to do, she said. As part of the emergency procedures and plans, there are agreements in place, too, for use of schools and other resources.

“All these relationships established during training and drills are important when something bad actually happens,” Clark said.

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