Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 16, 2011

The Problem with Assumptions

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Radiological & Nuclear Threats — by Arnold Bogis on June 16, 2011

The problem with bad assumptions is that given enough time they eventually come to the surface:

At that meeting, teachers for the first time addressed what they call a critical flaw in the state’s emergency evacuation plan for events at Seabrook Station. While the current emergency plan states teachers are charged with getting students on evacuation busses and accompanying them to a designated reception center, a 1987 state Supreme Court ruled teachers cannot be required to assume the role of providing assistance to schoolchildren in the event of an evacuation.

Teachers made it clear they are not part of the plan because they needed to attend to their own families in the event of a nuclear emergency.

The Seabrook nuclear power station is in New Hampshire.  It seems that emergency planners made what would seem to be common sense asumptions, such as if an evacuation was called for during a school day teachers would accompany students during the initial journey out of the 10-mile emergency planning zone.

The assistant director of the state’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management believes the current evacuation plans for the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant are sufficient, despite the refusal of some SAU 21 teachers to accompany students on outgoing buses should a public evacuation of the region ever be necessary.

Sometimes, the need to believe existing plans are adequate can overule otherwise persuasive evidence:

“If schools were in session and we had to do an evacuation, it would work,” Kathy Doutt told the audience at a public hearing on Seabrook Station safety held on June 8 at the Galley Hatch Conference Center at the Best Western Hotel in Hampton. “It may not be pretty, but it would work.”

Following a catastrophic event, people will be concerned about their loved ones.  Sometimes I think that those in a position to make plans forget the overiding importance of this fact:

Teachers made it clear they are not part of the plan because they needed to attend to their own families in the event of a nuclear emergency. They said state officials need to once and for all determine who would take on the responsibility to ensure students safety.

And while some planners assign roles to various members of the community, it is important to remember that sometimes (or even often) those people do not even realize what is expected of them:

Dunfey said when teachers were first assigned responsibility of evacuating students under the plan, a survey revealed that 97 percent of those within the entire evacuation zone would be unable to assume that task for family reasons. She said the plan states teachers are trained to react in the event of a radiological emergency and that is not the case.

“I can tell you that the staff of the school doesn’t know how to proceed,” the middle school teacher said. “I can tell you that the children of the school do not know how to proceed.”

As an aside, though an important one, is the issue of fear of radiation, especially following events in Japan:

At the June 8 meeting, Moyer also asked Doutt about rumors school bus drivers charged with evacuating SAU 21 students would not come into the area if a nuclear accident occurred. Doutt said officials are looking into that rumor but that alternative transportation has already been contracted.

However, most importantly events at the Fukushima nuclear power plant should have convinced those responsible for emergency planning that assumptions should always be questioned, especially when in hingsight they can seem almost incomprehensible.

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1 Comment »

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 17, 2011 @ 6:53 am

Teachers and administrators at the k-12 level and even HIGHER ED have long resisted the notion that they are responsible for those in their control and care. The 1987 decision conflicts with both NRC rulings and assumptions and research. But role conflict is definitely a stress fact in modern society and will continue. FEMA’s once took the position that teachers and students were not a special population but part of the general public. That position has completely broken down and stamped dead at both Columbine and Virginia Tech. If you are paid to be the principal contact with the outside world for any person or group of persons you must know what to do in an emergency and you not those under your control must know who can help and how. All teachers should have simple first aid. There is no reason not to have deputy principles who are in charge of emergencies and preparing for them. Time to grow up teachers and stop pretending your pay does not include the safety of the small people you care for most of the time.

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