Thursday, January 17, 2008
Northern Westchester Bureau Chief
Astorino: “County Withdrawal From Emergency Drills A Slap In The Face”
On January 7, 2008 the Westchester County Executive’s office released a new “Indian Point Emergency Planning Guide” for residents within the designated evacuation zone. The guide provides information on the siren alerts, the radio and television stations that will provide alerts, the levels of alerts, and the action to be taken by residents for each type of alert.
The County classifies the types of alerts, as follows:
• An Unusual Event : Defined as an operational problem with no expected radiation leak. Regulatory officials at local, state, and federal levels would be notified. No sirens would be activated and no action would need to be taken by local residents.
• An Alert : Defined as an incident that reduces the plant’s level of safety possibly resulting in a small leak of radiation not expected to threaten the public. Sirens may be sounded and emergency services activated. Local residents are expected to tune into news media sources for further information.
• A Site Area Emergency: Defined as an incident that has substantially reduced the plant’s level of safety with external radiation leaks within federal standards. Sirens will likely be sounded. As with an alert, emergency services will be activated but residents are expected to monitor the situation with the news media.
• A General Emergency : The highest level of alert, de-fined as a problem occurring that could release unacceptable levels of radiation outside the plant. Sirens will definitely sound at this level. Residents are expected to tune into the Emergency Alert System for instructions.
The County’s Emergency Planning Brochure reminds area residents that the level of alert could change at any time. Therefore, resi-dents should be prepared to monitor the news media for updates until the alert is dropped. Both the packet mailed to area residents, and the Westchester County Government website (www.westchestergov.com), provide maps of the evacuation area. Any residents who are unsure if their home, school, or work site is within the evacuation zone can log onto the County’s website and click on “Indian Point” for specific details.
Should an alert occur, one possible course of action for residents is to stay indoors. Residents should not assume that “staying indoors”
simply means closing the door behind them. The County’s information packet instructs residents to check all windows and doors, bring
all family members and pets indoors, turn off all heating and air-conditioning and any other ventilation systems, extinguish fires and close
dampers in fireplaces, tune in the Emergency Alert Systems stations, and leave cell phone and telephone lines open for emergency services.
Should an evacuation be necessary, the County provides instructions for residents to follow, including a checklist of evacuation supplies
to pack, and establishing a check-in phone number or meeting point for all family members. Among the items the County reminds residents
have on hand for an evacuation are important phone numbers, prescription information, a medical insurance card, and photos of any children.
To assist residents further in their planning, the county provides a list of emergency planning websites and resources such as local agencies, the Red Cross, F.E.M.A., and the Department of Homeland Security. The information provided in the emergency planning guide and on
the County website benefits every Westchester resident, regardless of proximity to Indian Point. Many other Westchester areas, outside of
the ten-mile radius around Buchanan, have experienced severe weather conditions, flooding, tornadoes, and man-made disasters ranging from
household fires to truck explosions. An evacuation can occur in any part of our county at any time.
Despite this reality, in November of last year, the County Executive, Andy Spano, announced that Westchester County would no longer be
participating in Indian Point drills and evacuation exercises. In an extensive interview with Rob Astorino, former member of the Westchester
County Board of Legislators and a prior candidate for County Executive, The Guardian learned that he is very concerned that Mr. Spano’s decision will adversely affect the County’s ability to respond to emergencies.
Astorino felt that the County’s withdrawal was “a slap in the face to first responders, volunteers, and officials” all of whom have developed
plans and participated in multiple drills for the public’s safety. Astorino felt that Spano was “irresponsible to withdraw from the drills” and that drills are required to assure that all participants know their roles and responsibilities and to expose weak spots and areas needing improvements.
The County’s new planning guide discusses the improvements the County has already made from their prior evacuation drills – such as
evacuation instructions that will now be given to residents specific to their municipality, not by zone. Several requests to the County Executive’s Office, both by telephone and e-mail by this reporter, for comment on the County’s withdrawal from future drills and the potential impact to public safety, continued unanswered as of press time.
In an OpEd article to the Journal News on January 5, 2008, Astorino reminded local residents that “even if Indian Point were to unexpectedly shut down tomorrow, the spent nuclear fuel would remain at the site for decades”. Used or “spent” fuel must currently be stored by Indian Point onsite since the federal government has yet to build a promised national repository. Indian Point has been storing spent fuel onsite since 1976. At present, the tanks where the spent fuel is stored at the Buchanan plants are full. Entergy, the plant operator, is currently in the process of transferring the spent fuel casks to a concrete storage site. According to Robyn Bentley, a spokesperson for Entergy, all of the spent fuel in the cooling tanks is expected to be transferred by March when the plant is scheduled to be refueled. In addition to the transfers of the spent fuel casks, Indian Point is also recapturing a leak of Strontium 90 material in the drainage system in Unit 1.
Ms. Bentley stressed that this leak poses no threat to the public and is being monitored at present by a groundwater team for any potential issues.
Ms. Bentley could not comment on the impact of Spano’s decision to withdraw the County from Indian Point drills since the next drill
scheduled is not until February 6, 2008. Ms. Bentley noted that Indian Point is obliged to hold drills on a quarterly basis in accordance with
federal guidelines. The February drill is a regularly scheduled state drill with only New York State agencies participating. The next scheduled
drill for local agencies and evacuation partners, including Westchester County, is scheduled for May. The evacuation partners include regional
hospitals, government agencies (including Westchester and Rockland Counties), and local fire departments. Ms. Bentley could not comment
at this time as to what a ect Westchester’s withdrawal will have on these organizations’ evacuation plans.
In the interim, Mr. Astorino is calling for Mr. Spano to immediately reinstate the county’s full and unequivocal participation in Indian Point
emergency planning exercises and drills.
Northern Westchester Round-Up
Chappaqua: • The New Castle Town Board is holding a series of public hearings on the proposed development for the former Readers
Digest site. The proposed development includes plans for affordable housing and units for residents 55 and older.
Cortlandt: • Assemblywoman Sandra Galef announced the winners of a state-wide vote for the official state butterfly. Karina Franke, an
elementary school student from Cortlandt Manor, wrote to Ms. Galef concerned about the plight of the Karner Blue butterfly. That
species, along with some of the state’s most significant butterflies, were selected for consideration for official status. Elementary students
from across the state voted for their favorites.
Peekskill: • Police arrested 16-year-old LaTonya Fisher for the murder of her boyfriend, 17-year-old Justin Woodward. Fisher stabbed Woodward to death in her family’s apartment in Bohlmann Towers.
Valhalla: • The New York Medical College was awarded $215,718 for stem cell research. The grant is part of a statewide program totaling
$14.5 million. • A Cornell University researcher discovered a human skull on the grounds of the Grasslands facility. The researcher, Dan
Bogan of Ithaca, was tracking the movements of a coyote when he made the gruesome discovery.
– Catherine Wilson