Illinois - Lessons From a Radiological Incident Exercise

The State of Illinois leads the United States in number of nuclear power reactors, with 11 active and one decommissioned; therefore, planning at the state and local levels for radiological accidents is a necessary and ongoing process. Annually, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) conducts exercises with several jurisdictions, including the county that houses a nuclear facility and those designated as support counties, which would have a role in an emergency response. These exercises follow the requirements outlined by the Illinois Plan for Radiological Accidents (IPRA) – a cooperative effort among state agencies, local governments, and private organizations – to ensure swift and effective evaluation, as well as the required response and recovery coordination, of any radiological incident. During the November 2011 IPRA drill, responders from McLean County had the opportunity to test their plans and training.

McLean County, approximately 120 miles southwest of Chicago, is the largest county in the state – 1,184 square miles, with a population of 169,572 according to the 2010 census. Although size and demographics ify it as rural, with 89 percent of the county being farmland, the county has access to assets that are not normally available to rural jurisdictions – for example, the Illinois office and corporate headquarters for State Farm Insurance Company, two universities (Illinois State University and Illinois Wesleyan University), and two heavy manufacturing plants (Bridgestone-Firestone and Mitsubishi).

Since 1969, the county also has the McLean County Disaster Council, which includes member representation from the public and private sectors, healthcare facilities, faith-based organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and academic institutions. The council meets bimonthly, conducts an annual full-scale training exercise, and has contributed over the past 45 years to an elevated emergency awareness and cooperation among local agencies.

A 2011 Example of an Ongoing Preparedness Effort 

Planners for the 2011 exercise included personnel from: the county emergency management agency, Illinois State University, the Town of Normal, the McLean County Health Department, the McLean County area emergency medical services, and the American Red Cross of the Heartland. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)/IEMA plan for the two-day exercise included multiple other organizations in four counties: DeWitt County, where the Clinton Nuclear Power Plant is located; and designated support jurisdictions of Macon, McLean, and Piatt.

Organizers asked McLean County responders to demonstrate their ability to support the target capabilities of emergency public safety and security responses, which included:

  • Distribution of dosimeters;
  • Emergency worker radiological exposure management;
  • Establishment of traffic and access control posts within the 10-mile emergency planning zone; and
  • Ability to conduct evacuee and emergency worker monitoring, registration, and decontamination of both equipment and vehicles.

Functions not exercised but that would be critical during an IPRA response were first aid, responder respite, and radiation dose assessment. Public information functions also were not included in the exercise.

McLean County Health Department was not initially included in the list of local participants. However, together with Animal Control Director Marshell Thomson and Assistant Administrator Catherine Coverston Anderson, the Health Department saw this as a rare opportunity to exercise certain functions, including population monitoring and companion animal decontamination. McLean is among the few counties in Illinois where animal control responsibilities fall under the authority of the Health Department and Thomson, in particular, wanted to evaluate the ability of her staff to respond to a public health emergency.

Director of Environmental Health Thomas Anderson offered personnel to assist with dosimeter distribution and portal monitor set up, both of these possible new support roles for the Health Department. Traditional environmental health activities – disease prevention, food safety, and drinking water and sewage treatment – would be limited during an emergency response, leaving environmental health personnel available to support the activities related to: radiological monitoring, decontamination station assembly, and prevention of further radiological contamination. This support also would augment IEMA and its local resources.

Planning & Exercising a Community 

As planning with local agencies progressed, McLean County participants learned that IEMA would have only a few personnel on hand to act as role players to walk through the portal monitor and population monitoring stations. IEMA accepted the offer of volunteers and recruited a dozen members of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program at the local YWCA. Population-monitoring forms included in the Community Reception Center toolkit were adapted for county use.

The Community Reception Center was established at Horton Field House in the university athletic area. Portal monitors were well-positioned to allow “contaminated” role players to enter directly into the building for showers, and then proceed to the population monitoring area. The interior of the Field House enhanced crowd control and ensured that no role player passed through to the American Red Cross shelter and respite area without completing the decontamination and screening processes.

The Town of Normal Fire Department began vehicle decontamination in a parking area adjacent to the Field House. Animal Control set up between the vehicle decontamination area and the Field House and, as the exercise progressed, it was determined that this activity would require a more suitable location, away from the vehicle decontamination. As this was a chilly, windy day in early November, no animals actually went through the decontamination process, but Animal Control was able to simulate for FEMA/IEMA their ability to register animals and instruct owners on proper decontamination procedures.

Participants learned a number of valuable lessons during this exercise, including the need for better signage and for more staff at animal decontamination and the population screening station. Environmental health observers were able to assist public works personnel and firefighters in tracking the flow of wastewater from the exercise and assess the potential effect on local residents.

There have been no full-scale exercises involving the support counties since 2011, and none are scheduled for the immediate future. However, the information collected from this exercise will be submitted during the upcoming (2014) McLean County plan review. In the event the State of Illinois ever has to execute the IPRA, McLean County will be better prepared to respond quickly and effectively.

Shay Simmons

Shay Simmons grew up in southeastern Michigan. After her military service (USMC), she relocated to Illinois and has been the emergency preparedness coordinator for the McLean County Health Department since September 2009. She completed the Emergency Management Institute’s Professional Development Series (PDS) in December 2012, and is currently working on her Illinois Professional Emergency Manager certification.

Curtis Hawk

Curtis Hawk is the director of the McLean County Emergency Management Agency. A native of McLean County, he has been with the agency for 16 years.



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