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Kansas State Firefighters Association

- Dedicated to the Safety and Education of the Kansas Firefighters -


Wolf Creek plan passes test

By Kim Holcomb
Emporia Gazette - August 16, 2002
Submitted by Kansas Press Clipping Service

Kim Steves stepped on the blue tacky paper to clean the bottom of her shoes. Then she walked through the portal monitor, setting off an alarm.

She was instructed to step to one side and raise her arm, while a worker in protective clothing used a hand-held survey meter to monitor her for radiation. The conclusion: She was "dirty" with radiation.

Steves, from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment's Bureau of Air and Radiation, was taking part on Thursday in an annual three-day nuclear emergency evacuation drill inside Emporia State University's Health, Physical Education and Recreation Building, set off by a mock release of radiation from the Wolf Creek nuclear plant.

"In order to evacuate, there would have to be a release or an imminent release of large quantities of radiation," Steves said.

Though the probability of an accident might be low, the possibility is treated seriously by Wolf Creek, state and local emergency personnel and ESU, the selected evacuation site for approximately 5,000 people who live and work in the vicinity of Wolf Creek.

"The emergency planning zone starts in the center of the plant," said Mike Kerving of Wolf Creek, "and it goes out 10 miles in all directions. It's divided into 22 subsections, most of which evacuate to Lyon County."

People living or working on the east side of the dividing line evacuate to Garnett.

After being funneled off Interstate 35 by the highway patrol and led to the parking lot at the new Recreation Center at the north end of ESU, said Tom Poston, ESU service coordinator and fire marshal, evacuees would be shuttled to the physical education building. Meanwhile, their cars would be decontaminated and parked.

Like a well-oiled machine, Emporia Fire Department, Road and Bridge, and EMS personnel--some of the same people who would be involved in a real evacuation--set up evacuee routes inside the HPER building, a vehicle-decontamination center outside, information tables, monitoring and decontaminating stations, and stations to register, feed and house evacuees.

They laid paths of yellow Herculite, an easy-to-clean plastic, on the floor; roped off hallways and doors; posted signs showing people how to proceed; and, before admitting evacuees, protected themselves with rubber booties and gloves.

Portal radiation monitors were put in place and turned on to catch small doses of radiation carried by model evacuees; a holding area for contaminated material was roped off; the stations were manned; and evacuees, some contaminated and some not, were ushered through the process.

Larry Howard, Emporia fire marshal, took names and other information from contaminated evacuees. Matt Collins of Road and Bridge, gave out maps and directions to the Memorial Union for meals and the residence halls for emergency housing.

"In an emergency, KDHE would be available by phone, but now we're here as a technical resource, to give health and physics advice, support and to assist Wolf Creek with training," Steves said.

The drill, which was evaluated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency last year, tests the facility for how well the equipment and routes are set up, how the contaminated people go to registration, the radiation monitoring and also the physical facilities, Steves said, to see how well equipped it is to house and feed such a large number of people.

Poston, who has been involved with the drill for around 20 years, said ESU is also set up to handle evacuated prisoners, as well as ESU administrators and high-ranking emergency officials.

"Prisoners will go to the west side of the building and be taken to the faculty-staff showers. They can be housed in the racquetball courts, where there's a view from above, and slits in the doors for the guards to look through. The command center will be upstairs, which also serves as an observation area," he said.

>From the room, officials could gather around one of three large windows looking down on the basketball court, where evacuees would be registered and monitored.

"They could see how many people are being evacuated, and how many are going to be decontaminated," he said.

Poston said the drill is not a static process.

"Every year it changes, because of buildings and personnel," he said. "We get groups with bigger and better ideas, and we brainstorm after each drill. I feel we have a much better plan than we did even 10 years ago."