First responders train for hostile takeover, damage at nuclear plant

Posted March 18, 2014 5:47 pm | Filed under Featured, Local News
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DSC_3778Andrew Kiel | WRHI.com
It might sound like the opening scenes from the latest action thriller: A group, possibly terrorists, takes control of the Catawba Nuclear Station in York County. During the incident, critical equipment managing the plant is damaged. Millions across the entire Charlotte metro area are at risk.

But it’s only a plot line of a movie. And Tuesday, the general circumstances behind a training drill involving over 500 First Responders and emergency managers in 11 counties across the Carolinas.

The Catawba Nuclear Station, run by Charlotte-based Duke Energy, calls York County home. Cotton Howell, York County’s Emergency Management Director calls most of the shots when it comes to the continuous drills and exercises conducted at the county’s Emergency Operations Center on Black Street.

When fully staffed, the center has space for around 90 people. From local law enforcement to the County Manager, public works, and civil service organizations like the United Way — there’s room for about 60 people in the Multi-Agency Communication Center.

“Everyone in this room has the authority within their agency to get things done,” Howell said. “They’re empowered to make decisions that commit manpower, resources and oftentimes money to take care of our citizens without delay.”

Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency were on hand Tuesday grading the entire operation on its efficiency. State officials were on hand as well and took over the operation from York County officials about two hours into the drill.

“This is a much larger event than we can handle in York County,” Howell said. “The state can handle major events…we  turned over direction and control to the state and they became the lead coordinator of all resources.”

Tuesday’s exercise was the first one of its type conducted at the York County EOC. Howell said while crews have drilled for the hostile takeover and damage to the nuclear power plant separately, this is the first time that both incidents have been joined together.

In a debriefing Tuesday, Howell reviewed some of the issues that arose during the situation: e-mail problems and everyday communication issues. In one instance, officials in Union County seemed insistent the Catawba Nuclear Station was located in North County. In another, a directive for emergency management workers to take Potassium Iodine tablets was inadvertently released to the public via a non-official source. In a third, conflicting information distributed outside of York County was taking precedence over information distributed via the public information teams.

FEMA’s results on the drill were not immediately available, but will guide county officials on how to proactively fix issues that may pop up in the future.

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