Sirens sound quarterly within 10-mile emergency zone

Posted 7/12/19

NEW HILL ­­— For a few seconds on Wednesday morning this week, residents within the 10-mile area surrounding Duke Energy’s Harris Nuclear Plant may have heard the plant’s emergency …

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Sirens sound quarterly within 10-mile emergency zone

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Posted

NEW HILL ­­— For a few seconds on Wednesday morning this week, residents within the 10-mile area surrounding Duke Energy’s Harris Nuclear Plant may have heard the plant’s emergency sirens.

Inside the 10-mile radius, known as the Emergency Planning Zone (EPZ), 83 outdoor warning sirens are positioned to alert residents in the event of an emergency. The sirens, a component of Duke Energy’s multiple layers of safety precautions at and around the nuclear power facility in New Hill, are tested at full volume periodically — and always on a Wednesday — said Michele Burton, senior communications consultant at the Harris facility.

Each year, everyone living within the EPZ receives a printed emergency preparedness guide from the utility company with information about plant safety, including information about the company’s quarterly siren tests, according to Burton.

“Every year, we issue the emergency preparedness book which lists when we have the siren tests, what they’re for and what to do if special assistance is needed,” she said.

The company’s website notes its emphasis on safety and security, which the site notes are “the highest priority at all Duke Energy-operated nuclear power plants. Our nuclear plants were designed with redundant and diverse safety systems to ensure the safe, secure operation of the stations every day.”

The periodic siren tests ­— the next will be conducted on October 9 — are performed in cooperation with emergency officials in Chatham, Harnett, Lee and Wake counties, who are responsible for sounding the sirens, said Steve Newton, Chatham County’s emergency operations director.

The siren tests, though routine, are important.

“The sirens have to perform just like they would in an actual emergency,” Newton said.

Because they are tests, local broadcasting stations do not interrupt programming to broadcast Emergency Alert System messages.

Burton advised residents who hear the plant’s sirens and unsure whether it’s a test or an emergency to tune to a local radio stations 94.7 WQDR-FM or 105.1 WDCG-FM. In an emergency, those stations stop regular programming to provide information to the public.

Residents within a five-mile radius of the Harris Nuclear Plant are given tone alert radios which can be activated by the National Weather Service to notify residents of emergencies, including severe weather or a problem at the Harris Nuclear Plant. Duke Energy officials advise residents to always keep the radios plugged in where the alarm can be heard, especially while sleeping. Tone alert radios are tested every Wednesday around noon.

Burton said that if there was a real emergency at the plant which require the sirens to be sounded, area radio and television stations — as well as social media outlets — would broadcast information and instructions to the public.

Although the company notifies the public in advance of its siren tests, Burton said it’s “not uncommon for someone to hear it and wonder what’s going on.”

Newton, likewise, said his office will occasionally receive inquiries from the public when the tests occur, “especially from newer residents,” he said, “who’ve never heard the sirens before.”

While residents within the region are familiar with the warning system and the quarterly testing, living in close proximity to a nuclear power plant is ever-present on the minds of some residents, like author and activist Judy Hogan, whose Moncure residence is well within the 10-mile EPZ.

“You don’t exactly get used to it,” said Hogan, who has lived at her residence on Moncure-Pittsboro Road for 20 years. “I just live with it.”

Hogan, at odds with Duke Energy for a number of years over the company’s storage of coal ash, said she’s voiced concerns about the nearby nuclear plant. “I’ve been fighting the coal ash and other kinds of pollution,” she said. “But it’s really hard to win these battles.”

Hogan said she likes where she lives, likes her neighbors and her garden; she has no plans to move.

But she stays prepared, just in case.

“I still have a bag packed,” she said. Ready to grab and go if needed, the bag contains clothes and other things she may need in an emergency.

As for the periodic siren tests, Hogan said the tests are audible, but more so under certain conditions.

“I hear them sometimes when I’m walking,” she said. “Inside, you can’t hear them. And everyone spends a lot of time inside. In the winter, we’re inside because it’s cold out; and in the summer, we’re inside because it’s hot.”

Burton said Duke Energy makes accommodations for those in the 10-mile EPZ who have special needs. Residents who may need assistance during an emergency are asked to complete and mail a Request for Special Assistance card, which is included in the booklet distributed to all residents. This information, updated yearly, assists county officials in meeting special needs.

Additional information about nuclear emergency planning can be found on Duke Energy’s website, duke-energy.com/NuclearEP

Randall Rigsbee can be reached at rigsbee@chathamnr.com.

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