“Harriman – John and Andrea DeBold can check the weather on their pagers
and send e-mail by minicomputer. Their door chimes with flashing lights. Closed captions scroll across their TV.
But for all the gadgets that bring normalcy to this deaf Orange County couple, one remains frustratingly elusive: an Indian Point warning system.
“What if I’m sleeping?” Andrea DeBold wondered last week, speaking American Sign Language through an interpreter. “What if I’m taking a nap? I wouldn’t know anything was happening” if the Indian Point nuclear power plant blew its top.
For the audibly engaged in the lower Hudson Valley, news of nuclear disaster would first come by way of siren. There’s one not far from the DeBolds’ Harriman home, near the Woodbury Common Premium Outlets on Route 17.
But for hundreds of hard-of-hearing residents like the DeBolds, a radiological release at Indian Point would fall on deaf ears. “The barriers if you are deaf are endless. It’s
an invisible disability,” said Cheri Donato, advocacy services manager at Independent Living in Newburgh.
Critics of the Westchester County facility have long questioned the feasibility of a large-scale evacuation. But seldom have challenges to the region’s deaf been big
news. And that worries the forgotten. “It’s scary,” said Andrea DeBold, 52. “I can’t hear a thing.”
In case of a nuclear emergency, officials in four counties surrounding the plant – Orange, Rockland, Putnam and Westchester – would trip 156 sirens, notifying those who can hear to turn on a radio or television for further instructions.
Then, if an evacuation were ordered, emergency planners would clear
residents from inside a 10-mile ring around the plant. Those in need of special assistance could get a personal knock on the door.
But the DeBolds wouldn’t be so lucky. Because they live just a few hundred feet west of the 10-mile mark, no one would come for them. Steve Gross, an Orange County spokesman, explained the county’s duty this way: “I wouldn’t say they are out of luck, but we’ve determined the zone is the area of concern. We stick to the federal
Entergy Nuclear Northeast, which owns Indian Point, is equally noncommittal. “It is ultimately the county’s responsibility to notify the public,” company spokesman
Jim Steets said.
A new Indian Point alerting system being planned for later this year will enable counties surrounding Indian Point to install a text messaging component. Orange and Putnam officials said they hope to go online within the next few years. Rockland and Westchester are already there.
But the DeBolds might not be around long enough to enjoy the peace of
mind. After three decades on Eden Road, they’re thinking about selling their home. Taxes are the real reason, they say, but getting away from a nuclear danger zone also has its perks.
If you would need assistance during an Indian Point emergency, register
with your county emergency planning department.”