Could a false alarm like Hawaii happen in Pennsylvania?

Written by Gordon Rago/The York Daily Record | Jan 18, 2018 10:28 AM

Peach Bottom Nuclear Power Plant. (Photo: File -- Courtesy The York Daily Record)

(Undated) -- Pennsylvania appears to be a step ahead of Hawaii when it comes to some safeguards in the emergency alert system.

On Saturday, an employee with the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency mistakenly pushed a button on a computer screen that sent out an alert that read: "BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL."

Among changes already implemented in Hawaii: Two people will have to sign off before any such alert is sent out. 

In Pennsylvania, the state's emergency management agency already has that two-person authentication in place when it comes to sending out alerts, said Richard Flinn, PEMA's director.

"The key is we don't have a single point of failure," Flinn said Tuesday, hours after he said the Hawaiian incident was discussed at a morning meeting.

How are PA residents alerted?

Emergency notification rests with the state.

Of the several possible emergencies facing Pennsylvania, one of the more complicated is an accident at one of the state's five nuclear power plants.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires these plants, including Three Mile Island and the Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station, to have emergency plans in place. 

In case of an accident or emergency, the company would notify the governor's office and the NRC, said NRC spokeswoman Diane Screnci.

Depending on what happened, PEMA could make a decision to alert residents. In the case of an evacuation or other serious incident, residents can expect to get a wireless emergency alert from PEMA. These alerts would go off automatically on your phone, and residents don't have to sign up for them, similar to weather-related alerts or an amber alert.

The emergency agency would also send the alert to television and radio stations.

These alert broadcasts would go out at the same time the plant's sirens go off, Flinn said.

In York County, residents should also expect to see social media posts from the Office of Emergency Management during a major emergency, county spokesman Mark Walters said.

Where can I go to get more info?

The state runs a site called that provides more information on emergency planning.

Both Peach Bottom and Three Mile Island have more information on what to do in case of emergencies. 

You can also check out Three Mile Island Alert. The group's chairman, Eric Epstein, describes the group as a safe energy organization that monitors nuclear power plants along the Susquehanna River.

PEMA also maintains factsheets for each of the state's plants, which include information on evacuation routes as well as evacuation reception centers and decontamination centers.

Those can be found under planning and preparedness on the state agency's website

This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and The York Daily Record

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