U.S. Nuclear Facilities and Disaster Planning

It’s been over a year since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.  It was a dark reminder that man-made disasters are sometimes harder to manage because there is often little warning.  It is therefore critical that the population within the Evacuation Zone (10 miles) and the Contamination Zone (50 miles) have plans in place to follow in the event of a disaster.  But the actual areas that would be affected in the event of a meltdown would be determined by the strength and direction of the wind (The National Resource Defense Council did some modeling of this for a U.S.-based Fukushima type disaster.  The results show that in several cases, the fallout plumes extend way beyond the 50 mile Contamination Zone).  Therefore, it is a good idea for most of the U.S. population to have plans in place.  But would you know where to go and what to do if you found yourself in the path of radioactive fallout?

Public and private planners not only have a responsibility to help develop disaster plans – they are some of the best equipped to do so.  Large-scale disaster planning requires professionals to think in terms of time and space – two skills planners are required to employ.  Disaster planning also requires knowledge of who you are planning for.

Here are some demographics for the aggregate area of the Contamination Zones (50 mile rings) to give you an idea of the scale of nuclear disaster planning that needs to take place.

2011 Total Population 120,344,948
2011 Total Households 45,609,967
2010 Pop Age 0-4 7,560,657
2010 Pop Age 5-9 7,687,670
2010 Pop Age 10-14 7,903,607
2010 Pop Age 15-19 8,499,429
2010 Group Quarters (GQ) Pop 3,046,237
 GQ – Institutionalized 1,366,304
 GQ – Prison 664,487
 GQ – Juvenile Detention 56,363
 GQ – Nursing Facilities 613,558
 GQ – Other Institution 31,896
 GQ – Noninstitutionalized 1,679,933
 GQ – College Dorms 1,088,388
 GQ – Military Quarters 132,555
 GQ – Other Noninstitutionalized 458,990
Square Miles 414,654

Of particular concern are the young and the population that lives in group quarters.  These population bases are likely to require assistance in the event of a disaster.  They may also require special accommodations.  For example, if you had to evacuate a maximum security prison you are going to need a place to move them to AND a staff that is qualified to manage the prisoners.  Another likely scenario requires tending to the elderly that would be evacuated from nursing care facilities.  Hurricane Katrina taught us that it is not enough to have a plan in place – you need to have multiple plans for different scenarios.

FEMA has posted some nuclear disaster preparedness information that is worth reading.  It is important that each household is acquainted with the plan(s).  However, large-scale coordinated planning at the city, county, state, and national level is critical.  This  is where we’ve fallen short in the past (see Hurricane Katrina).  Effective planning (and execution) is largely a function of leadership.  Those in leadership positions should be capable of managing multiple large-scale plans.

If you would like to read more about disaster planning and disaster recovery, check out the American Planning Association’s disaster planning blog.

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