Westchester Citizens Awareness Network

Adrian Court    Cortlandt Manor, New York      914-739-6164 

Contact: Marilyn Elie:  c 914-954-6739  

November 15, 2005      

For Immediate Release
WestCAN Calls for the Real Deal –

Have Schools Practice the Evacuation Drill

The controversy surrounding the antiquated siren alert system for emergencies at the Indian Point nuclear power plant raises serious questions about the ability of the school system and local government to protect the safety of pupils trusted to their care. The recent down rating from green to white at Indian Point 2 and leaks at the spent fuel at Indian Point 3 have also contributed to a sense of growing unease on the part of many parents.

There are ten school districts, 55 schools, and nearly 30,000 students who have never rehearsed the proper procedures for an emergency evacuation. Drills in which the schools have participated have been either “table top” drills where a single phone call to participating districts assumed complete and successful compliance or, at most, a drill where pupils were loaded onto buses but not taken to a reception center.  To do anything well it is necessary to practice: an evacuation drill is no exception.  If all of the many complex pieces of the puzzle designed to keep students safe are to work smoothly, the plan must be tested under the most realistic scenario possible.  Just as fire drills are regularly and routinely practiced so that students and staff know how to exit the building swiftly, so must evacuation drills be practiced so that there is no question about how to respond in the event of a radiological emergency.

There are realistic precedents for this kind of testing.  The TOPS 2 drills that were conducted in the Midwest revealed many unsuspected weaknesses in regional evacuation plans. Last month the state of Vermont conducted a real-time unannounced drill for the 20 schools surrounding the Yankee nuclear power plant. This is Vermont’s third such real time drill to prepare for a real disaster.

A real time drill would test the schools KI or potassium iodide distribution plan, and ensure that radiation monitors were available, that bus drivers could locate the shelters and that shelters were adequately stocked with food, water, medicine, and could accommodate all of the students assigned to them. All this is merely speculation at the present time.

Dr. Richard Kravath, a pediatrician stated that “ Children are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of radiation because their bodies absorb and metabolize toxins differently.  Children are also far more likely to ingest the highly carcinogenic iodine, strontium and cesium isotopes because they put their hands in their mouths more than adults.  So it is really imperative that they be rapidly evacuated and decontaminated, if exposed, and receive immediate and appropriated dosages of potassium iodide.”

There are many different elements of our community that would require careful planning in case of a radiological disaster. Children are among the most sensitive and vulnerable of all. During the recent campaign for County Executive the challenger called for a real time evacuation drill for the entire county.  The incumbent’s response was that the business community would be very unhappy with a real drill because of the economic loss that would be sustained. Evacuating only the schools would help mitigate this effect.

Marilyn Elie of Westchester Citizens Awareness Network stated: ”An emergence evacuation plan is a chain in which one weak link can spell havoc.  The Indian Point plan is fatally flawed.  Entergy’s broken siren system is at the top of the list.  Hiring an independent contractor to quickly install a fully functioning alert and notification system is the only was to ensure that the pubic will be informed.

An additional question that must be clearly answered is: ‘Who is in charge here?”  Is it the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, FEMA, or Homeland Security?  After the nightmare in New Orleans, it is obvious that FEMA, while normally in charge is not able to fulfill its obligation in either approving the merit of the plan or coordinating a real time drill.  This is one more reason that school officials and county government must proceed on their own.

Westchester Citizens Awareness Network calls for the following items to be incorporated in the existing emergency preparedness plan:

  1. Immediately install back up power for all sirens that are a part of the emergency notification system and rapidly replace them with a state-of-the-art system.
  2. Add a phone dial-up for emergency notification.
  3. Distribute a 2-week supply of potassium iodide tablets to all residents within 20 miles of Indian Point.
  4. Upgrade all emergency alert radios.
  5. Distribute pagers to all school bus drivers.
  6. Expand the Emergency Planning zone to cover all people within 50 miles of Indian Point.
  7. Add sirens for full coverage of all towns within the 50-mile radius of Indian Point.