Wednesday, December 22, 2010

TRAPPED-The Transportation Dependent and Federal Policy

Recently the Press has been filled with follow-up to the NY Times story "Thinking the Unthinkable" and its focus on sheltering in place as opposed to evacuation as a protective action should there be a NUDET or RDD incident or event.

The articles also focused on the multiagency document issued in June 2010 Preparedness for a NUDET that is available on this blog under baseline docs. That 2nd Edition focused to some degree on new subjects like Emergency Public Information.
The January 2009 version issued in the last days of the Bush Administration was heavily criticized on technical grounds.
Neither edition has gone through with review by the NAS or NRC (national research council) and that should be done.

There is a place for evacuation as a PAR [protective action recommendation] but oddly the new policy guidance has appeared just as the transportation dependent population has grown dramatically. Many in urban cores benefiting from improved and heavily subsidized public transportation regimes have abandoned owning a car for reasons of economics, expense and other reasons.

The CENSUS did not specifically examine or document those who are transportation dependent in the US. There is some ancedotal evidence that the better the public transportation modalities the more likely those areas are to thrive population wise and economically. So there is that return on investment.

Unfortunately, few public transportation systems have emergency plans or anticipate increased usage in crisis and disaster situations.

FEMA historically picked up the evacuation emphasis from the federal civil defense program and its predecessor organizations. The fact that during Hurricane Katrina, over 80% of NOLA successfully evacuated thereby meeting FEMA long published standards for success did not prevent those trapped and left behind from being documented as subjected to government misfeasance and nonfeasance charges in particular leveled at FEMA. Evacuation is complicated and its origins in the federal civil defense effort goes back to the NIXON Adminstration when it tried to deal with the "fallout" from the failure of the JFK civil defense shelter effort [some would say that program was a success]! Also the full benefits of the National Defense Highway System (Interstate) were beginning to become available by the last 60's for the program started under Dwight Eisenhower in 1958. His effort was premised on his own personal knowledge from convoy efforts in the 1930's and the German {NAZI] autobahn efforts in the 30's.

So where does that leave the US? My point is simple. Shelter in place designed to protect against fallout but not heat or blast is a short term solution perhaps as short as 2-3 hours even assuming properly sealed single family residence. Ionizing radiation from an core-melt accident comes in two forms. Airborne and depositional material. Oddly the technical arguments over dosate, safe and lifetime are driven by EPA and FDA, one for the population and response community the other for the food ingestion pathway. These so-called PAGs need to be studied and understoond by everyone not just the response community or health physics community. What is of interest is that it might not be an either or decision, shelter or evacuate but some elements of the area surrounding the incident/event might need to shelter and others to evacuate. After all a pie usually is served in slices.

This puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the availability of sound measurng systems, and their are up to 18 available atmospheric dispersion models available through federal sources with no real agreement on the model to be used in even a core-melt accident.

It also terrifically burdens the Emergency Public Information load because it is so technical yet needs to be accurately translated in announcements over the EAS, WEB and other means of communications. And the distinctions between WARNING, Alerting, and notification must also be observed.

So plenty of work to be done. Hoping this issue will be receiving more attention in the future by all concerned or impacted from First Responders to Citizens and residents of major urban areas. Good luck and remember the testimony of my panel at the Seabrook Nuclear Power station liscensing proceeding is that sometimes, despite the fallout, it might be best to just walking away from the center of the incident/event, hopefully with wind blowing in opposite direction. Hey keep in shape! Get those walking shoes.