By Louie Horvath
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer
While the rest of the world watches the destruction caused by the earthquake and subsequent nuclear complications in Japan with worry, local emergency management employees watch with a different purpose.
These personnel are the ones charged with ensuring that no matter the catastrophe, their local community is ready if such an event does occur.
Instead of waiting for a catastrophe to happen in their area, they are constantly probing and tinkering with their plan should such an event occur. So far, they feel good about the quality of the plan in light of the disaster in Japan.
“We have not made any changes to the plan,” Orange County emergency planner Darshan Patel said. “Our plan is pretty robust right now. Through the planning process, we take many things into consideration. We don’t have any immediate changes yet.”
Carrboro fire inspector Ethan Cicero echoes much of the same opinion.
“This is something that’s been worked on, planned for and revised, but specifically to the Japan catastrophe? No,” said Cicero.
While both emergency personnel stressed that the emergency preparedness document is an ever-changing tablet, they both did not feel the need to add to it or make changes because of the events in Japan.
They cannot give out those plans to the community because of the threat of a terrorist plot that would disable the county’s contingency plans.
“The specifics of these items are not given out outside of the county, in case someone’s trying to plan something,” said Cicero. “They are reviewed annually if not quarterly. It’s something that many people are involved in. Not just EMS or police.”
The contingency plans also include larger risk buildings, such as the UNC-Chapel Hill Cogeneration Facility on Cameron Avenue, hoping to safeguard against the same electrical problems that have afflicted Japan. But emergency planners know that no matter how foolproof a plan appears there is always a risk factor involved.
“Any sort of large facility that does power generation, whether it’s hydroelectric, cogeneration, nuclear or coal burning, there are always inherent risks in there, and some may be more than others,” Patel said. “There’s always some level of risk.”
There is no higher risk than at Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant just outside of New Hill, N.C. While Orange County lies outside of the 10-mile emergency planning zone, it still lies well within the 50-mile radius that could be affected by a nuclear plant meltdown. Carrboro is roughly 30 miles from the nuclear plant.
“We have emergency drills that we perform with the county and the state,” said Julia Milstead, the Progress Energy spokeswoman for the Shearon Harris plant. “We are required by federal law to have these drills twice a year, but at Progress Energy we always try to meet and exceed the requirement that’s put in front of us. We typically here at Harris have eight emergency drills every year.”
On April 26, 2011, the Shearon Harris plant will have a test that is graded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Patel confirmed that along with the local Wake County officials, emergency preparedness responders from Orange County would be taking part in the drill.
The entire emergency preparedness state of the U.S. was jolted to the front of the country’s mind after the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, and many of those changes have spurred the creation of the National Incident Management System (NIMS), a federal system that ensures that many different agencies could keep in touch at a moment’s notice.
“When 9/11 happened, frequently there wasn’t a lot of cross communication,” Cicero said. “A lot of people were hurt or killed because of that. The government realized that there was a problem. They had to create a common system that everyone uses.”
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