State and federal laws require safety drills in counties near a nuclear power plant as a means of preparing leaders for real disasters. The drills are observed and graded by both FEMA and TEMA safety officials. A failing grade could result in the nuclear plant being shut down until the drill deficiencies are corrected.
As Bradley County mayor, I couldn't be more pleased with the drill's outcome. The five FEMA evaluators found no deficiencies with Bradley County EMA's practices and procedures, and commended the participating emergency response agencies for a job well done.
The exercise is held every two years and involves multiple incident scenarios focusing primarily on plausible emergencies which could affect the Sequoyah Nuclear Facility in Harrison. Some 7,000 Bradley County residents live within the nuclear plant's 10-mile Emergency Protection Zone.
The scenario began with a gas leak inside the plant which forced the evacuation of everyone within a 1-mile radius. It soon escalated to a small radiation leak which tested emergency officials’ ability to evacuate about 7,000 Bradley County residents within the designated 10-mile radius which included Prospect Elementary School. It was also necessary to set up an emergency shelter and a means of providing proper medical treatment through the Bradley County Health Department.
The drill was further complicated by additional scenarios including a multiple-vehicle crash on I-75 at Exit 20, a missing patient at SkyRidge Medical Center and a tanker-truck wreck in front of Ocoee Middle School which was the site of the emergency shelter. The additional challenges were handled with efficiency and effectiveness that earned special commendation from federal evaluators.
The drill demonstrated the ability of Bradley and Hamilton County emergency response agencies to communicate effectively and cooperate with the shared goal of protecting our citizens.
As mayor, I commend Bradley County and Cleveland City law enforcement, fire and rescue, Bradley County Emergency Medical Services and Emergency Management Agency Director Troy Spence and his staff for demonstrating a high level of professionalism and competence.
I want to also thank the Bradley County Health Department as well as the volunteer efforts of local ham radio operators and the Hiwassee Chapter of the American Red Cross. Both volunteer arms would play a crucial role in operating the designated shelter at Ocoee Middle School should a disaster of this magnitude occur.
Fortunately, the events of Nov. 17 were just a drill. But it clearly demonstrated the ability of local, state and federal agencies to respond to an emergency.
Our first responders are prepared for a variety of disasters, from tornadoes to floods to radiation leaks. This high level of preparation is another reason I say … “Bradley County is Tennessee at its best.”