News

“Nuke sirens get 24-hour monitor” by Mike Risinit

WHITE PLAINS – Verizon has promised to continuously monitor the telephone lines that activate the four-county emergency siren system around the Indian Point nuclear power plants, Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano said yesterday.

The 24-hour, seven-day-a-week surveillance is meant to avoid the kind of problem that arose last week, when faulty phone lines periodically left the nuclear facility without the capability to communicate via computer with Westchester, Putnam, Rockland and Orange counties. Other steps also are being taken to ensure the notification process properly functions, such as replacing the siren system.

“We’re doing everything in our power to make sure everyone comes together,” Spano said. “Everyone is taking this as an important issue.”

Spano made his comments following a 90-minute, closed-door meeting with federal and state emergency officials, utility representatives and leaders from the four counties. The phone line problems began early Aug. 15 and continued until Aug. 18, prompting Spano to hold yesterday’s meeting.

The malfunctions were the result of several unrelated glitches, including a loose coaxial cable and problems in a White Plains switching station. The plant’s owner, Entergy Nuclear Northeast, and a Westchester emergency official said Indian Point workers could have sounded the 156 sirens in case of an emergency at the site, and the counties involved could have done so using local radio frequencies. Others have noted that the radio system has yet to be tested. The sirens are meant to alert residents to turn on radios and TVs for more information during an emergency.

In addition to Verizon’s around-the-clock monitoring, which Spano said should be in place by the end of the year, Entergy is revamping its own system for checking the lines and is in the process of replacing the siren system.

“We’re doing things that if a line goes down, we’ll know about it right away,” Entergy spokesman Jim Steets said.

Previously, if a line malfunctioned, it went unnoticed until routine testing revealed the flaw. If the disruption occurred outside of normal business hours, such as at night or on a weekend, the incident went unreported until the next business day – delaying any repairs until then. The line then would be treated like any other – repairs were made when technicians became available, Spano and others said.

Spano said Verizon would immediately dispatch workers to resolve a problem.

Verizon spokesman Cliff Lee, who did not attend yesterday’s meeting, couldn’t provide any additional information.

Verizon technicians spent about 20 hours last week repairing the initial problem. Last week’s outages followed two July incidents, when storms resulted in a loss of power to some or all of the sirens.

“We’re pretty committed to working with Entergy,” Lee said.

Verizon’s continuous monitoring would be similar to a home alarm system, where a security company in a centralized location is alerted to any change in the status of a home system.

Michael S. Beeman, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said the counties within the plant’s 10-mile evacuation zone need to have confidence in the emergency notification system, whether it uses sirens or another means to warn residents of a problem. If they’re not, he said, that poses a problem for Entergy.

“If they’re not satisfied the siren system is effective, their (Entergy’s) license continuation is in jeopardy,” said Beeman, referring to the expiration of Indian Point’s operating licenses. The first expires in 2013.

Entergy is looking to replace the siren system within two years. Elected leaders and anti-Indian Point groups have long criticized the siren system, pointing out that some sirens fail to correctly function during quarterly tests, and have called for a back-up power supply for the system.

Steets said Entergy was in the information-gathering stage, and the new system could rely on one or a mix of several technologies – newer sirens, a reverse 911 system (those in the evacuation zone would receive a telephone message), the Internet, fiber optics or wireless communications.

Rockland Deputy County Executive Susan Sherwood said any new system had to be “beyond state of the art” when it’s installed. “We’re demanding action, and we’re following it intensely,” Sherwood said.

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