Safety drill at Plant Vogtle puts some in panic as sirens are tested

Plant Vogtle

Vogtle Electric Generating Plant, Burke County, Georgia. (File / WRDW-TV)

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011

WAYNESBORO, Ga. -- The sirens blasted, and this was part of the message that people heard on TV or over their tonal radios:
"This is a drill. This is only a drill. Emergency response agencies in Georgia and South Carolina are conducting a simulated emergency at Plant Vogtle."

Overall, the message indicated it was a drill nine times, but many people were still caught off guard.

"Some people may not get that message and may not have the information, and those people may hear the siren and not realize what's happening," said Roger Hannah, the senior public affairs officer for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Region II office out of Atlanta.

He says "nuclear" is still a word that scares some people, so communication is key.

"It is. I think there are people that have questions about the operation of nuclear plants," he said.

If you were caught off guard, he says that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's better than not hearing the sirens or getting the alert.

"The best result of that is the sirens do work, so there were some sort of event at the plant, the sirens would be there, would be functional and would be available to alert people that something was going on," he said.

The test is especially critical for neighbors living within the Emergency Planning Zone (EPZ). That's a 10-mile radius around Plant Vogtle. It includes parts of Burke, Aiken, Barnwell and Allendale counties.

"It's something that happens annually, every year, and, you know, I think this proves that it's good, that it works, that it keeps people alert," said Katherine Melvin, a communications coordinator in public affairs at South Nuclear, Plant Vogtle's operator.

She says the media were notified through an advertisement, but here at News 12, we didn't get it. Hannah says they're not required by the NRC to alert the media of a drill, but Melvin says if it were an actual emergency, media would definitely be notified.

Melvin says that safety is the primary goal out there. Tuesday night's drill was to simply test the system to make sure it's working. It was coordinated with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and the Burke County EMA.

Another important note, all those people living within that 10-mile radius are required to have a tonal radio for alerts.

And for those people outside that radius, there's a good place to find emergency numbers and procedures.

Please click here to access that information.

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