Hundreds participate in nuke emergency drill
MONTPELIER — Local, state and federal officials converged on Windham County for an emergency drill involving two mock earthquakes at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.
It was a biennial graded exercise in which the Federal Emergency Management Agency will review the activities of officials who would respond to a real emergency. FEMA will reveal its findings at a meeting at the Quality Inn in Brattleboro on June 2.
"It was a big exercise," said Duncan Higgins, deputy director of state Division of Emergency Management. Hundreds of state and local officials covered their emergency posts, with 70 responding at the division's headquarters in Waterbury alone, he said.
"This is certainly from a biased opinion, but I think it went very well," Higgins said. "We didn't see any major glitches. We had all the players here and they did what they were trained to do."
Vermont Yankee spokesman Robert Williams said the emergency drill was triggered by two mock earthquakes near the plant — the second stronger than the first. He said a general emergency — the most severe of four classes of emergencies at a nuclear plant — was declared shortly after noon, and that the drill envisioned a release of radioactivity into the environment.
Each of the five Vermont towns within the emergency planning zone around Vermont Yankee — Vernon, Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford and Halifax — staffed its emergency operations center. State officials staffed an incident field office in Dummerston, while state and Vermont Yankee officials staffed a media center in Brattleboro, holding mock press briefings.
Higgins said tone alert radios that would notify many area residents of an emergency were activated Tuesday. Entergy Nuclear, the company that owns Vermont Yankee, stepped up distribution of the radios last year after it was revealed that there was not an adequate inventory of them or adequate assurances that they were operating properly.
Problems were also revealed during a drill in December in which Brattleboro officials and the private school bus contractor used by the town failed to get enough buses to the schools for a mock evacuation.
Higgins said no buses were actually moved as part of Tuesday's drill. But he added that officials satisfied themselves that the necessary communications were made that the buses would have been available if needed.
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