NPPD responds to questions over NWS messages

August 4, 2014

Computer systems accentuate importance of emergency system operation

Brownville—Owning a nuclear power plant involves safely maintaining and operating an industrial facility for the purpose of generating electricity. But it also means protecting the public by preparing for emergencies that could, but are unlikely to, happen at the plant.

To do that, personnel from the Nebraska Public Power District and its nuclear power plant, Cooper Nuclear Station, works with a multitude of agencies – from Atchison County in Missouri and Nemaha County in Nebraska, to the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency and State of Missouri Emergency Management Agency, to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission – all in an effort to provide a collective and unified response of information.

Mid-afternoon on Sunday, Aug.3, the public’s preparedness was tested by a message inadvertently issued by the National Weather Service (NWS). NWS issued the false message at 3:48 p.m., then sent a correction at 4:01 p.m. and placed a message explaining the error on its website. The counties of Atchison and Nemaha also issued corrective communications to the public via Facebook and a press release.

As part of its emergency response efforts between NPPD, the counties and the states, NWS will broadcast alert messages to the media, various agencies and the public. In Sunday’s instance, NWS personnel were updating the wording programmed in the computer system, and the message was mistakenly issued.

Unfortunately, it was the second inadvertent message about emergencies for Cooper sent out in two weeks. On July 24, NPPD personnel were troubleshooting the computer system associated with a siren in Nemaha County when a false alarm was broadcast. 

“Computer systems are supposed to make us more efficient, accurate, and proactive in protecting the public. Unfortunately, they recently have caused confusion,” said NPPD President and CEO Pat Pope. “NPPD asks the public around the plant for its patience and understanding. Work on these computer systems is being done to help – not hinder –  our emergency planning and response activities.” 

NPPD practices its emergency response efforts by conducting drills or exercises at each of its generation facilities, including Cooper. The drills and exercises conducted at Cooper are more extensive, involve multi-state, county and local agencies and also involve practice on disseminating public information.

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