On This Date: March 28, 1979

28 03 2011

The Three Mile Island accident was a partial core nuclear meltdown in Unit 2 (a pressurized water reactor  manufactured by Babcock & Wilcox) of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania near Harrisburg  in 1979.

The power plant was owned and operated by General Public Utilities and Metropolitan Edison (Met Ed). It was the most significant accident in the history of the USA commercial nuclear power generating industry, resulting in the release of up to 481 PBq (13 million curies) of radioactive gases, and less than 740 GBq (20 curies) of the particularly dangerous iodine-131.

The accident began at 4 a.m. on Wednesday, March 28, 1979, with failures in the non-nuclear secondary system, followed by a stuck-open pilot-operated relief valve (PORV) in the primary system, which allowed large amounts of nuclear reactor coolant to escape. The mechanical failures were compounded by the initial failure of plant operators to recognize the situation as a loss-of-coolant accident due to inadequate training and human factors, such as human-computer interaction design oversights relating to ambiguous control room indicators in the power plant’s user interface. In particular, a hidden indicator light led to an operator manually overriding the automatic emergency cooling system of the reactor because the operator mistakenly believed that there was too much coolant water present in the reactor and causing the steam pressure release. 

The scope and complexity of the accident became clear over the course of five days, as employees of Met Ed, Pennsylvania state officials, and members of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) tried to understand the problem, communicate the situation to the press and local community, decide whether the accident required an emergency evacuation, and ultimately end the crisis. The NRC’s authorization of the release of 40,000 gallons of radioactive waste water directly in the Susquehanna River led to a loss of credibility with the press and community.

In the end, the reactor was brought under control, although full details of the accident were not discovered until much later, following extensive investigations by both a presidential commission and the NRC. The Kemeny Commission Report concluded that “there will either be no case of cancer or the number of cases will be so small that it will never be possible to detect them. The same conclusion applies to the other possible health effects”.  Several epidemiological studies in the years since the accident have supported the conclusion that radiation releases from the accident had no perceptible effect on cancer incidence in residents near the plant, though these findings are contested by one team of researchers.

Public reaction to the event was probably influenced by The China Syndrome, a movie which had recently been released and which depicts an accident at a nuclear reactor. Communications from officials during the initial phases of the accident were felt to be confusing.  The accident crystallized anti-nuclear safety concerns among activists and the general public, resulted in new regulations for the nuclear industry, and has been cited as a contributor to the decline of new reactor construction that was already underway in the 1970s.

The incident was rated a five on the seven-point International Nuclear Event Scale: Accident With Wider Consequences.

On This Date: March 24, 1989

24 03 2011

The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska, on March 24, 1989, when the oil tanker bound for Long Beach, California, struck Prince William Sound”s Bligh Reef and spilled about 11 million US gallons of crude oil.  It is considered to be one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters.  As significant as the Valdez spill was—the largest ever in U.S. waters until the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill—it ranks well down on the list of the world’s largest oil spills in terms of volume released. However, Prince William Sound’s remote location, accessible only by helicopter, plane and boat, made government and industry response efforts difficult and severely taxed existing plans for response. The region is a habitat for salmon, sea otters, seals  and seabirds. The oil, originally extracted at the Prudhoe Bay oilfield, eventually covered 1,300 miles of coastline and 11,000 square miles of ocean.

Weston Lakes Unveils Emergency Operations Center

21 03 2011

The following article comes from the Fort Bend Herald.  It was posted on Monday, March 21, 2011 and was written by Don Munsch.  The City of Weston Lakes has done a fantastic job in preparing its citizens for future emergencies.  Having the foresight to develop an Emergency Operations Center is a very proactive step and the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management looks forward to working with Mayor Zdunkewicz and Mayor Pro Tem Aldrich in future emergency preparedness efforts.  Reporter Don Munsch writes:

Weston Lakes may only be about three years old as an incorporated city, but city officials have created their own Emergency Operations Center should a crisis situation, such as a hurricane, arise and affect members of the community.  On Saturday, officials showed off that center to the public at an open house.

The center was set up at the Weston Lakes Country Club.  Visitors got to see to see the emergency center’s general operating procedures and conference stations. The center is activated when any risk-management situation threatens residents, said Linda Newsome Johnson, public information officer for the city of Weston Lakes.

“We would go into full operation during the emergency and or crisis,” she said, noting people would be at the emergency center until the crisis has passed.

Don Munsch / Fort Bend Herald Weston Lakes Mayor Pro Tem Cliff Aldrich, left, points out something on a computer during an open house for the city’s Emergency Operations Center Saturday at the Weston Lakes Country Club. Pictured here with Aldrich are Weston Lakes Mayor Mary Rose Zdunkewicz, city public information officer Linda Newsome Johnson and (sitting) volunteers Linda Harnist, left, and Sally Bayard.

Visitors saw how news about the crisis situation would be transmitted on computers stations, a PowerPoint screen and television in a room at the emergency center demonstration. Maps also would be available in times of emergencies.  A flow chart set up at the open house showed the chain of command for volunteers and city and local officials during an emergency.

Newsome Johnson said Saturday’s open house was an opportunity for volunteers to get familiar with the center and was “good test plan” for officials to see people work together.  “We’ve taken the proactive steps to be prepared in the event of emergency,” Newsome Johnson said. “Many of the cities do not have access to the Web Emergency Operations Center or are as prepared as we are to have our own EOC.”

Mayor Mary Rose Zdunkewicz heads up the Emergency Operations Center during an emergency and Mayor Pro Tem Cliff Aldrich serves as the incident commander. Volunteers on the Community Emergency Response Teams provide assistance and can use golf carts during emergencies.

“The incident command (leader) is making sure that all the information that goes out is credible information, and then, of course is released once the mayor has improved everything,” Newsome Johnson said. “Nothing goes out without the mayor’s statement or approval.”

Aldrich said he hoped visitors learned that the city is committed to ensuring that, in an emergency, officials will respond to their needs and provide some services. A generator can provide electricity.

“We were kind of lucky (during Hurricane Ike) – we only had three days (of no electricity),” he said. “You think about the people in Houston. They were out of electricity for three weeks or four weeks. That surely was not fun, because it wasn’t fun for three days.”

The country club’s main building will be set up as a place for people to stay a short time during a crisis, including if they are waiting to be transferred to a medical facility, but Aldrich said it is not a shelter.

Visitors who attended the open house could pick up a hurricane information guide and Fulshear-Simonton-Weston Lakes resource booklets.  Weston Lakes, with a population of 2,482 (2010 Census), contracts with the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office for police services and Fulshear-Simonton Fire Department for fire protection.

FCC Eyes Expanding Role of Travelers’ Information Stations

20 03 2011

Below you will find an article by Randy J. Stine.  It was published in Radio World on March 4, 2011.  This article does a fair job of explaining the discussion that is now taking place at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  Fort Bend County has a vested interest in the outcome of the FCC’s decision related to Travelers’ Information Stations (TIS).  Fort Bend County, with a population nearing 600,000, is a second tier County in the Houston area, north of Galveston and Brazoria counties.  The County utilizes TIS on a daily basis, but most importantly during times of emergency.  The County’s TIS was built out for the prime mission of communicating with the thousands of citizens who may be evacuating the Gulf Coast from Galveston and Brazoria counties during threat of hurricane.

The system was built following Hurricane Rita based on lessons learned.  We have designed the system to provide advisory services for the two evacuation routes that cut across the County— State Highway 36 and State Highway 6.   During such emergencies, such as Hurricane Ike in 2008, the system worked flawlessly and provided us an effective way of communicating important evacuation information to the public, including fueling information, weather information, as well as information about evacuation routes.

Our County has taken special interest in Docket 09-019.  Our experiences with TIS technology over the last six years have made us realize the value of using TIS for emergency and public safety messages.  TIS has proven itself during disasters as a reliable method for reaching travelers with emergency information.  Fort Bend County supports the American Association of Information Radio Operators’ (AAIRO) position regarding clarification and update of FCC Part 90.242 rules governing TIS.

It is the County’s hope that the FCC will recognize the critical importance of expanding current TIS rules to allow for a loosening of content restrictions for NOAA weather broadcasts (both routine and non-routine).  This is critical for us in the Gulf Coast area.  Additionally, the ability to use TIS for Amber Alerts, Silver Alerts, power outages, pandemics, and 9-1-1 outages makes sense—- it provides better service to the travelers, especially in areas of messaging not even contemplated when TIS service was initiated many years ago.

FCC Eyes Expanding Role of TIS

The FCC is considering making adjustments to the rules governing Travelers’ Information Stations.

On the table are requests from some highway groups and TIS stations themselves to increase their power levels and widen the types of programming the low-wattage AM stations can air.

This TIS road sign sits along northbound I-75 in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula leading to the Mackinac Bridge. Photo courtesy Mackinac Bridge Authority

The commission is considering requests from three different groups for modifications to existing TIS rules in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. In the proposal, the agency asks what kinds of limits it should impose on TIS stations, if it does in fact expand their capabilities.

Low-power TIS stations, licensed to federal, state and local governmental entities, are only allowed to transmit travel-related information. Specifically, TIS stations can broadcast voice information pertaining only to traffic and road conditions, traffic hazard and travel advisories, directions, historical and event information and descriptions of local points of interest.

Some TIS operators would like to include such things as Amber alerts, terror threat levels, NOAA weather forecasts, public health warnings and other information.

The 10-watt radio stations, most often found at 530 kHz, air advisories directly to motorists and are located near major auto travel routes, airports, parks or transportation terminals. The FCC established the TIS service in 1977 and authorized them on a primary basis on 530 kHz and on a secondary basis in the 535–1705 kHz band. Transmitting antennas cannot exceed 49.2 feet in height.

The U.S. National Park Service is one of the largest users of TIS systems, while the California Department of Transportation operates a system of 120 fixed TIS locations and another 12 mobile TIS facilities throughout the state.

The FCC estimates there are 1,300 TIS stations on the air in the United States. Stations typically can be heard in a three- to five-mile radius of the station’s antenna.

It’s not 1977 anymore

The groups requesting updates are the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials; the American Association of Information Radio Operators; and Highway Information Systems. Each submitted petitions asking for varying degrees of modifications.

Eric Ehrenreich, attorney advisor in the FCC’s policy division of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, said the bureau chose to combine the individual petitions into one NPRM.

“The commission is seeking comment on the specific changes to the TIS rules proposed by each petitioner and on the overall approach the FCC should take,” the FCC states in the notice.

The three petitioners contend that conditions have changed since the commission initiated the TIS service in 1977 and that the expansion of some of the rules would be in the public interest.

Highway Information Systems’ petition asked the commission to consider renaming the TIS service the “Local Government Radio Service” and eliminate the limitation that confines TIS stations to areas near roads, highways and public transportation terminals. In its petition, the group proposes that TIS stations be permitted to transmit information as determined by the government entity licensed to operate the station.

Highway Information Systems is a subsidiary of Vaisala, Inc., a Swedish firm that specializes in road weather monitoring systems. It purchased Highway Information Systems in 2009 from Quixote Corp.

Mike Kattich from Century Electric and Tom Coviak from Information Station Specialists install electronics and route services for a TIS station in Aurora, Ill. Photo courtesy Information Station Specialists

Several of the petition groups asked the FCC to consider allowing use of “ribbon systems,” in which several transmitters in close proximity broadcast the same material to cover a larger geographic area. Current rules preclude government entities from creating networks of stations.

American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials asked the FCC to consider allowing Amber alerts and 511 service information on TIS facilities.

William Baker, president of American Association of Information Radio Operators, said his group believes the TIS service can be more valuable for public safety.

“Helpful content is out there now that was not envisioned by the original writers of the rules. Amber alerts, for example, were not available in 1977 when the TIS rules were adopted. The question is whether such critical content should be disseminated widely by all media but excluded from TIS.”

Baker and his group, which has 335 members, contend that public safety is everyone’s business. “Just because someone is seated behind the wheel of a car does not mean that they suddenly cease to have an interest in their greater safety.”

Radio World’s attempts to reach the other two petitioners for comment were unsuccessful.

Michael Williams, president of the Wildlands Residents Association-San Marcos Pass Volunteer Fire Department in Santa Barbara, Calif., manages a TIS station near State Road 154, where 11,500 motorists pass its location each day.

Wildfire advisories

“Changes in FCC regulations to provide a broader base of information would be helpful, particularly rebroadcasting of NOAA information directly from NOAA. We also get asked a lot, particularly by local emergency officials, about increasing our coverage area.”

Williams said since wildfire is the number one public safety threat in the area, it’s critical for his TIS station to be allowed to carry advisories from the U.S. Forest Service.

Information Station Specialists’ Field Tech Tom Coviak installs a Travelers Information Station. Photo courtesy Information Station Specialists

TIS proponents often argue that the stations could benefit the public even more, especially during power blackouts, when traditional means of communication are inoperable. According to the FCC, a significant number of TIS stations operate on solar power or have backup systems that would allow them to continue operations.

“The FCC has an interest in promoting policies that will enhance the effectiveness of public alerts and warning reaching motorists over diverse communication channels,” the FCC states in the NPRM.

In addition to increased content, the commission invites public comment on whether TIS field strength limits should be modified to increase coverage areas and whether to allow stations in more locations.

At least one broadcast consulting firm questions the soundness of any power increase for TIS stations, citing concerns about increased clutter on the AM band, and especially nighttime skywave interference.

“Any increase in power level and increase in the number of TIS facilities is obviously going to increase the noise level, or the noise floor in the AM band, especially during nighttime hours,” said Ben Dawson, president of Hatfield & Dawson Consulting Engineers. “Nighttime skywave propagation is so variable that any increases in signal will likely raise the noise level.”

Commercial broadcasters at first opposed creation of the TIS in the mid-1970s, claiming that it would duplicate information provided by commercial broadcasters, the FCC wrote in the NPRM. However, those issues were settled when the commission ordered that TIS services be non-commercial and low-power, experts said.

Still, the NAB, in comments on the petition for rulemaking filed by American Association of Information Radio Operators in 2009, said there was insufficient evidence to justify a major overhaul of TIS operations and therefore asked that the petition be denied.

Others, including National Public Radio, have voiced similar reservations about changing the TIS rules, arguing that the service is accomplishing what it was intended to do.

“The FCC must ask itself whether there is a compelling need to recast the existing TIS service and if doing so will merely duplicate existing and emerging broadcast services,” NPR said in comments filed in response to the petitions for rulemaking.

The FCC’s Ehrenreich said bureau staff will review public comments and make recommendations to the full commission, which will ultimately decide whether to modify the rules by issuing a Report and Order.

Reply comments to PS Docket No. 09-19 were due by March 7; initial comments were due by Feb. 18.

Free Online Symposium – Community Recovery from Disaster

16 03 2011

Given the recent catastrophe in Japan, this is a most timely event.  Lots of quality speakers including Chuck Wemple from the Houston-Galveston Area Council who will be presenting an article on economic issues in post disaster recovery based on his experiences in Texas.  Information about this free event is below.

The Public Entity Risk Institute will present its first 2011 online symposium, Community Recovery from Disaster, March 21-25, 2011. The symposium will bring to practitioners and public officials practical information about the latest research and lessons learned about the economic, social, physical, institutional and interdisciplinary dimensions of disaster recovery. These dimensions were explored in depth by top researchers in the field at the recent Theory of Recovery Workshop sponsored by PERI and funded by the National Science Foundation. This online symposium will investigate how these dimensions of disaster recovery could affect your community, and offer lessons that will help you prepare.

Each day of the symposium, registered participants will be able to log in and read the papers and post comments on the material presented and pose questions to the authors or other participants. Provided as a public service, PERI Virtual Symposium Programs are free and open to anyone with Internet access (registration required). Each morning, participants who enroll in the Symposium will be emailed a link to the papers being presented that day.

This symposium program will be moderated by Dr. Laurie A. Johnson. Laurie Johnson is Principal of Laurie Johnson Consulting and a senior science advisor to Lexington and Chartis Insurance companies. She has over 20 years of professional experience in urban planning, risk management, and disaster recovery management, and has studied most of the world’s recent, major urban disasters, including the Chile (2010), Sichuan China (2008), Kobe Japan (1995) and Northridge (1994) earthquakes, Hurricane Katrina (2005) and the 2004 Florida storms, and the World Trade Center disaster. In 2006, she was a lead author of the recovery plan for the City of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and coauthored the book, Clear as Mud: Planning for the Rebuilding of New Orleans, published in April 2010.

The following experts have been invited to contribute Issues and Ideas Papers:

  **Charles Eadie, Principal Associate, Hamilton Swift & Associates, will present a paper on the physical dimensions of disaster recovery.
  **Dr. Rick Sylves, professor and senior research scientist at the Institute for Crisis, Disaster, and Risk Management, Department of Engineering Management, University of Delaware, will present a paper on the institutional dimensions of disaster recovery.
  **Chuck Wemple, Economic Development Program Manager of the Houston-Galveston Area Council and manager of the Gulf Coast Economic Development District, will present an article on economic issues in post disaster recovery based on his experiences in Texas.
  **Dr. Rob Olshansky, professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will co-author the symposium introduction and synthesis paper with the moderator.
  **Dr. Liesel A. Ritchie, assistant director for research at the Natural Hazards Center, will present on the social dimension of disaster recovery.

Sign-up today for the free symposium! 


Failure is Not an Option – Darrell Powers

15 03 2011

Staff Sergeant Darrell C. Powers “Shifty” was a non-commissioned officer with Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, in the 101st Airborne Division during World War II.  Powers was portrayed in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers by Peter Youngblood Hills.  The 2011 book Shifty’s War, by journalist Marcus Brotherton, captures Sergeant Powers’ full life story.

Powers was born in Clinchco, Dickenson County, Virginia and volunteered for the paratroopers with his good friend, Robert “Popeye” Wynn. Shifty spent a great deal of time in the outdoors hunting game prior to joining the service.  This later proved useful as many of the skills he obtained helped him as a soldier. He graduated from high school.  Powers enlisted on August 14, 1942 at Richmond, Virginia.

Powers jumped into Normandy on D-Day, missing his drop zone. He eventually came in contact with Floyd Talbert and the two made their way to Easy Company. He also participated in the Allied military operation Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands, and the Battle of the Bulge in Foy, Belgium. While in Foy, a German sniper shot three members of Easy Company, and everyone hid for cover.  With the aid of C. Carwood Lipton, Shifty made a heroic attempt and silenced the German with his M1 right between the eyes.  Company members say Powers saved many lives that day.  He was generally considered to be the best shot in Easy Company. One of his most truly remarkable achievements, and a testament to the extraordinary gifts his backwoods upbringing brought to Easy Company, was the story documented in the Ambrose book, Band of Brothers, about the time in Bastogne when Shifty mentioned to his commanding officer that he noticed a tree in the distant forest that was not there just the day before. The “tree” was ultimately discovered to be a camouflaged German artillery piece. Were it not for Shifty’s keen observations and outdoors experiences, many lives may have been lost, had that enemy weapon not been spotted from a distance of nearly a mile away and amongst a literal forest of other trees.

Because many men serving in the 101st lacked the minimum points required to return home, a lottery was put in place.  Shifty Powers won this lottery after the rest of the company rigged it in his favor by removing their own names, and was set to return stateside.  During the trip to the airfield, the vehicle that Shifty was in was involved in an accident and he was badly injured.  He spent many months recuperating in hospitals overseas while his comrades in arms arrived home long before he did.

Powers was awarded many medals and decorations including Bronze Star with 1 Oak Leaf Cluster, Presidential Unit Citation with 1 Oak Leaf Cluster, Good Conduct Medal, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 3 service stars and arrown device, World War II Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal, Croix de guerre with palm, French Liberation Medal, Belgian World War II Service Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, and Parachutist Badge with 2 jump stars.

Honorably discharged from the Army in the postwar demobilization, he became a machinist for the Clinchfield Coal Corporation.  Powers died on June 17, 2009 of cancer in Dickenson County, Virginia.  He was 86 years old at the time of his death.

The above information was found from Wikipedia.  The information below is from a June 20, 2009, article about Power’s death.  The article below was written by Roger Brown, Bristol Herald Courier.

Band Of Brothers Hero, Darrell ‘Shifty’ Powers Dies

“The world depended on them. They depended on each other.”

That was the tagline for “Band of Brothers” – an award-winning 2001 HBO mini-series drama on the World War II experiences of Easy Company, a U.S. Army unit that fought bravely and fiercely across Europe.

But for Bristol’s Margo Johnson – daughter of Darrell “Shifty” Powers, one of the soldiers depicted in “Band of Brothers” – two more lines could be added to describe her heroic father: “The world truly admired Darrell Powers. I absolutely adored him.”

“I loved everything about my daddy,” Johnson said. “He never bragged about what he did in the war. And for a lot of years, he never even talked much about what he did – unless someone asked him about it.

“But he truly was a hero to me,” Johnson said. “Just like he’d been to the people who know him as a soldier in a [mini-series].”

Powers, a Dickenson County native, died earlier this week at age 86 following a battle with cancer. His funeral service will be held today in Clintwood.

“He was a brave man, even to the end of his life,” Johnson said of her father. “He’s helping me be brave now, too.”

Bravery – and dignity – was a constant, running thread in the life of “Shifty” Powers, both during and after his life as an Army sharpshooter in the actual “Band of Brothers.”

During the war, he fought brutal battles against the German army across France and Belgium.

After the war, Powers served as an eloquent representative for the men he fought with: At one point during the “Band of Brothers” mini-series, he appeared on camera to talk in moving, humane fashion about his grim but necessary task during the war – killing the enemy.

And, too, Powers served as a loyal, steadfast representative for the country he fought for: from graciously meeting with a former enemy German soldier to eagerly accepting any chance to speak with modern-day members of the U.S. military.

Ivan Schwarz, a producer on the “Band of Brothers” HBO series, remembers Powers as a “kind, generous soul with a great sense of humor.”

“Shifty was an incredibly humble human being,” said Schwarz, now executive director of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission in Cleveland, Ohio.

“He was like most of the other [Easy Company] soldiers we met for the series. They were good guys who were kind of shocked that, 50 years later, people were making a big deal over them for just doing their duty.

“That’s exactly how [Powers] was, too,” Schwarz said.

Attempts were unsuccessful to reach Peter Youngblood Hills – the English actor who portrayed Powers in the “Band of Brothers” miniseries, through both HBO and his former publicity firm, Hamilton Hodell in London, England.

Are Earthquakes Really on the Increase?

14 03 2011

The destruction caused by the recent earthquake in Japan has grabbed our attention this weekend.  And, the subsequent tsunami and nuclear problems are tragedies that are almost incomprehensible.  One question that has come up a couple of times on the television news program I was watching included:  “Are earthquakes happening more frequently?”

Best source of information for a question like that is the United States Geological Survey (USGS).  And the USGS answer to the question follows:

“Although it may seem that we are having more earthquakes, earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater have remained fairly constant.  A partial explanation may lie in the fact that in the last twenty years, we have definitely had an increase in the number of earthquakes we have been able to locate each year. This is because of the tremendous increase in the number of seismograph stations in the world and the many improvements in global communications.  In 1931, there were about 350 stations operating in the world; today, there are more than 8,000 stations and the data now comes in rapidly from these stations by electronic mail, internet and satellite.  This increase in the number of stations and the more timely receipt of data has allowed us and other seismological centers to locate earthquakes more rapidly and to locate many small earthquakes which were undetected in earlier years.” 

The USGS National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) now locates about 20,000 earthquakes each year or approximately 50 per day.  Also, because of the improvements in communications (e.g. Twitter, YouTube, Facebook) and the increased interest in the environment and natural disasters, the public now learns about more earthquakes.

According to long-term records (since about 1900), the USGS expects about 17 major earthquakes (7.0 – 7.9) and one great earthquake (8.0 or above) in any given year.  So far in 2011, the NEIC Information Center indicates that we have experienced one great earthquake and six major earthquakes