This blog has previously discussed the importance of current continuity of operations planning for nuclear power plant facilities and the surrounding areas. However, recent research shows that the current federal standards for emergency evacuations might need to change.
A report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) challenged a 30-year-old fundamental of emergency planning around American nuclear power plants. According to the old requirement, preparations for evacuation should focus on people who live within 10 miles of the site. However, the GAO said that residents living outside of that radius might still become panicked in the case of a nuclear disaster and try to evacuate regardless.
Called a "shadow evacuation," this could create clogged roadways and delay the escape of others. It could also alter the current estimations for how long officials think an evacuation would take.
Pennsylvania Senator Robert Casey Jr. is one of four lawmakers who requested the investigation, and told The Associated Press that they made the call after an AP investigative series in 2011 that reported weaknesses in community planning for nuclear accidents. Those articles also discussed the possibility of large shadow evacuations.
In a recent interview, Casey said that the report suggests that "we need to do more to ensure that these residents who live outside of the 10-mile radius have access to and understand evacuation procedures." While Casey added that legislation might be needed, he did not give specifics.
No matter where a town is located, having an up-to-date continuity of operations plan is crucial. Nuclear emergencies are just one reason why residents would need to know how to leave the area safely. Conducting tabletop exercises can ensure that all individuals understand what they must do in a disaster so they keep themselves and others out of harm's way.