By Tracy Correa
SAN LUIS OBISPO — In a massive coordinated effort, some 500 people from about 50 different agencies took part in a drill recently in and around Diablo Canyon Power Plant – PG&E’s nuclear power site in San Luis Obispo County.
The exercise was intended to test local emergency response, so that in the unlikely event of an accident, PG&E is ready.
The phrase, “This is a drill. This is a drill,” reminded people that although the response was designed to look real, it was not.
Michael Ginn, emergency planning manager at Diablo Canyon Power Plant explains the series of events.
“Early in the morning we initiated the scenario event, which was a small plane crash on site near our 230-kilovolt power lines which led to the declaration of an unusual event,” said Ginn.
“The consequence of the smoke and fire from the small plane crash, escalated to an alert classification due to a loss of off-site power and impact to safe shut down equipment. In addition to that, some hours later, the emergency response organization was challenged with the scenario events which were challenges to the fission product barriers that protect the reactor vessel,” he said.
“So, we had a general emergency declared, which required us to coordinate closely with San Luis Obispo County and public safety agencies to issue recommendations.”
The exercise is a walk up to an evaluated test in November, one of the licensing requirements through the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Among those involved in the recent drill were fire and law enforcement, parks officials, FEMA, in addition to Diablo Canyon employees.
Scott Ellis, Diablo Canyon Power Plant fire captain, whose team worked with CalFire at the site where the plane was to have crashed, said you can never drill too often.
“This exercise gives us an opportunity to work with the Cal Fire folks, to work on building that very strong relationship that we have so that the handoff is essentially seamless,” he said.
“They help us, with learning how to better respond to vegetation fires, and we help them in becoming more familiar with what a nuclear site is and what the particular hazards are that you won’t find anywhere else,” said Ellis.
Several miles away, mock media briefings are underway at the Joint Information Center – an off-site information gathering center.
Ron Alsop, emergency services manager for San Luis Obispo County, has the lead role here. He said these drills are painstakingly planned to mimic the real thing.
“It’s literally thousands of hours of work involved, and hundreds of people. In this particular drill, not only did we have county and related agencies, and of course folks that work at the plant. But also involved are City of Pismo Beach, Port San Luis Harbor District, County Office of Education, and there are a number of school districts involved, so we actually start preparing for drills such as this about a year ahead of time,” said Alsop.
At the nearby Emergency Operations Facility, officials from PG&E, the sheriff’s department, public health and agriculture – work together in large rooms against a backdrop of maps and overhead projectors. Their roles are identified by color-coded smocks and vests.
Teamwork is critical
Teamwork is critical in a disaster, said San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson.
“We’re coming in from all walks of life with all different directions but we all have one mission and that mission is to provide for the safety of the residents in the county,” he said.
“I would say it’s kind of like team sports. You know you have got to do your part. And your part, whether it’s carrying the ball or blocking on the line, you have to stick with what your responsibilities are and stick to the game plan,” said Parkinson.
The drill will be evaluated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And while they are an important requirement for continued licensing, Ginn said even greater is the reassurance to the community.
“The real importance for me is that I have family that lives in Avila Beach, that’s close by the power plant. And every day, we focus on safety at the power plant. These drills and exercise provide us an opportunity to demonstrate that focus on safety to the community. So, it’s very important that we’re successful in our response to these drills and exercises and then carry those lessons learned and share them with the customer.”
E-mail Tracy Correa at Tracy.Correa@pge.com.