AIKEN, S.C. – The Savannah River Site (SRS) has launched innovative methods to ensure emergency preparedness drills continue in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to many employees working remotely.
Traditional emergency drills and exercises involve dozens of employees working in close proximity across the 310-square-mile site. By pivoting to a virtual format during the pandemic, the site’s Emergency Response Organization (ERO) has been able to continue conducting its drills while strengthening its ability to respond to emergencies by implementing methods focused on remote workers and small groups of employees onsite.
“In response to the pandemic, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS) took a close look at our capabilities that allow us to respond quickly and effectively to emergencies, along with our ability to deliver results on our projects despite the constraints presented to us by COVID-19,” said Stuart MacVean, president and CEO of SRNS, the site’s management and operations contractor.
The SRNS Emergency Preparedness (EP) organization adapted quickly to COVID-19 constraints, implementing the virtual and small-group facility drills to maintain readiness while protecting the health of SRS employees. Since March, when COVID-19 began to impact site operations, the organization has completed 48 virtual drills and 38 real-time drills at facilities using controls specific to the pandemic.
The SRS EP team also conducted a first-of-a-kind response drill in which the SRS ERO responded from remote locations. The activation demonstrated that SRS emergency management employees can respond effectively to an emergency from remote locations.
The SRS emergency management team delivered online training in advance of that planned activation. A full-scale virtual response drill is scheduled for next year.
The SRS Infectious Disease Response Team, a subset of the SRS ERO, has also been active since March. This team is responsible for directing pandemic response efforts at the site, including case management, protocol development, and supply coordination. The team has been providing necessary information to employees, stakeholders, and the greater public.
The team also set up a “war room” to ramp up daily engagement at the site’s Alternate Emergency Operations Center. According to MacVean, local, regional, and national information and data is provided to the team, which consists of 14 SRS ERO members in the war room and 17 emergency management personnel providing support remotely. In addition, five emergency preparedness coordinators monitor potential COVID-19 cluster areas and draft patient tracking reports.
“SRS employs over 11,000 people. Maintaining a constant state of readiness in a work environment as large as ours is paramount, and our success in this area speaks to our commitment to safety and security,” MacVean said.
The SRS EP organization will continue to host virtual drills, with plans to move to a hybrid model involving virtual and real-time drills in the first quarter of 2021.
The site will reinstate traditional drill protocols post-pandemic. SRS is currently in Phase 1, meaning maximized telework is in place for EM missions.