WVDHSEM completes full-scale nuclear accident preparedness exercise, recognized for strengths

By Edwin Wriston | West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management | July 8, 2019


The West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (WVDHSEM) recently completed a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) full-scale exercise designed to test the agency’s abilities to deal with a nuclear accident or event at the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Plant in Beaver County, Pennsylvania.


WVDHSEM passed the exercise with flying colors and were recognized by FEMA for two specific areas of demonstrated strengths by the State Accident Assessment Center (SAAC); attention to detail in redefining restricted areas based on radiological field sample results and ingestion sampling strategy based on the time of year and the half-life of isotopes identified in the vegetation samples.


Held in March, the 2019 Beaver Valley Power Station (BVPS) Ingestion Pathway Exercise was designed to demonstrate and test the emergency response plans, policies, procedures and capabilities of state and local emergency management agencies within West Virginia.


Communities in Hancock, Brooke, Ohio and Marshall counties in West Virginia fall within the 50-mile Ingestion Planning Zone (IPZ) of the BVPS. In the event of an accident or event at the facility, these communities could see potential impacts to public safety that could last for a few days, or for an extended period of weeks, months, or even years.


For the exercise, WVDHSEM was required to demonstrate its abilities to mobilize emergency management and emergency response personnel, to activate emergency operations centers and support facilities, to operate in a high-stress multi-agency response environment, and to protect the health, lives, and property of West Virginia citizens within the 50-mile IPZ.


“An exercise of this depth and scope requires a tremendous amount of preparation and training,” stated Meghan Hutchinson, West Virginia Radiological Emergency Preparedness State Agency Coordinator for WVDHSEM. “While the greatest risk for radiological contamination exists within a 10-mile radius of the BVPS, our mandate is to prepare for a large-scale event that could impact the 50-mile zone. At DHSEM, our job is to help coordinate and lead the various state and local agencies that would respond to such an incident, and liaison with our federal partners to speed response to and recovery of the impacted area.”


Issues dealt with during the exercise included needs for evacuations and temporary or permanent relocations, short and long-term impacts to livestock and agriculture, potential municipal and private water system contaminations, public stream and river access and use, and eventual reentry issues for evacuees and businesses.


The exercise also addressed capabilities with monitoring and data collection of radiation field samples, overall responder and citizen safety, and inter-agency integration and cooperation.


In addition to WVDHSEM and FEMA, federal, state, and local agencies participating in the exercise included the National Weather Service – Charleston Office, the Federal Radiological Monitoring Assessment Center, members from the Radiological Assistance Program, US Environmental Protection Agency, US Department of Agriculture, West Virginia National Guard, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, West Virginia Division of Highways, West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, West Virginia Intelligence Fusion Center, WV Department of Agriculture, West Virginia Governor’s office, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, First Energy Nuclear Operating Company/BVPS, Dominion Energy, West Virginia University Extension, Marshall University, the West Virginia University Radiation Safety Office, and the Hancock County Office of Emergency Management.


“The 2019 BVPS exercise after-action report which we received last week was entirely positive for West Virginia,” stated Mike Todorovich, Director of WVDHSEM. “Not only did we pass the exercise without any notable discrepancies in policies, plans, or procedures, FEMA congratulated us on two areas of identified demonstrated strengths by the SAAC. Demonstrated strengths are only given when extreme competence and workmanship is shown. So we are very proud of the SAAC, and of all the exercise participants who helped make this exercise such a tremendous success.”


WVDHSEM conducts multiple small and large-scale exercise each year with state and local partners on a whole range of emergency management functions and operations to identify needs and shortfalls in resources, strengthen capabilities, and to increase preparedness throughout the state.