Outside the Fence

Lindsey Patten
January 21, 2015
By Lindsey Patten
Post 9/11, the federal government instituted regulations requiring Canadian nuclear power plants to have an armed presence on site 24/7. Ontario Power Generation (OPG) initially signed a contract with the Durham Regional Police Service (DRPS) to supply armed security to its greater Toronto nuclear plants in Darlington and Pickering. The DRPS contract remained in place for about 10 years but the OPG decided in 2008 to begin training its own people to take over. That transition was completed in 2012. "Many of the officers engaged in that activity are either ex-law enforcement or military," notes Paul Nadeau, OPG Vice President of Security & Emergency Services. "The model at our sites incorporate both armed and unarmed officers. An unarmed officer may be operating scanning and search equipment whereas an armed officer would respond to a breach."

Post 9/11, the federal government instituted regulations requiring Canadian nuclear power plants to have an armed presence on site 24/7. Ontario Power Generation (OPG) initially signed a contract with the Durham Regional Police Service (DRPS) to supply armed security to its greater Toronto nuclear plants in Darlington and Pickering.

The DRPS contract remained in place for about 10 years but the OPG decided in 2008 to begin training its own people to take over. That transition was completed in 2012.

"Many of the officers engaged in that activity are either ex-law enforcement or military," notes Paul Nadeau, OPG Vice President of Security & Emergency Services. "The model at our sites incorporate both armed and unarmed officers. An unarmed officer may be operating scanning and search equipment whereas an armed officer would respond to a breach."

OPG security positions include nuclear safety officers, who are required to have a police foundations or security administration diploma, and nuclear response force members, who must have a valid firearms license, St.John's Ambulance First Aid certification and pass a tactical training course.

Training is key to ensure officers are prepared. The OPG security force train continually and must pass an annual performance test.

"We call it a force on force exercise," Nadeau says, "where there's an attempt by an adversary force and our folks are called upon to display their skills by stopping that from taking place."

There's strength in numbers. OPG doesn't disclose how many security officers it has but Nadeau notes that "we have to meet certain numbers according to the regulations and we always meet and mostly exceed those numbers at any given time."

{Lessons from Fukushima}

Many countries reassessed their nuclear emergency preparedness after the 2011 Japanese nuclear disaster. The Fukushima plant was hit by a Tsunami, triggering a massive magnitude 9.0 earthquake and causing a meltdown of the plant's three operational reactors. The Fukushima disaster is unlikely in Canada but it motivated authorities to re-examine their capability to anticipate and respond to severe incidents.

OPG began improving its equipment and procedures, even bringing in representatives from 50 agencies to participate in its first large-scale nuclear plant exercise since 1999.

"Everyone has a plan to look after their piece of the response but we wanted to see how that would mesh and integrate together as the event was unfolding." Nadeau explained.

It took more than a year to plan for the May 2014 exercise. OPG staff met regularly with representatives from outside agencies. The main goals of the exercise included:

a) Demonstrating that emergency responders could protect the public and environment;

b) Testing the interoperability of participating organizations and integration of their response;

c) Coordinating communications with media and the public before and during the exercise; and

d) Preparing a joint evaluation of the interoperability of the participating organizations.

"Different agencies had different objectives they wanted to achieve and our goal in the end was to give everyone a chance to achieve their objectives," notes Nadeau, who adds each agency had a very good response plan in place and all responded in an appropriate manner.

"The top lesson I took away from this, frankly, is that we can't wait another 15 years to do this," Nadeau says.

There's interest in staging a similar exercise every three or five years, given the number of responding agencies involved and the complexity of the response. "We have to find time and find ways for us to conduct exercises like this on a more regular basis," Nadeau says.

"What was interesting was... confirmation of information between the different agencies as things were unfolding. There's a lesson to be learned there. We need to sharpen that."

Each agency wrote its own after action report and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission conducted an independent assessment of the exercise. An independent evaluator witnessed the exercise and commented that it was the most bold and innovative she had seen in her 40 years in the business.

It takes a lot of coordination from all agencies involved to make events like this a success, Nadeau says.

"It's extremely important when you stage an exercise of this scale that you immediately recognize the importance of involving the organizations that are 'outside the fence' that can support you in case of this kind of situation or incident.

"It's really enhanced our relationship with all these agencies and it's something we need to continue to nurture as we move forward and continue to test our plans and look at every opportunity to make improvements."

OPG is continuing its efforts to improve security at its generating plants to ensure the security both employees ad the public.

BIO

Lindsey Patten is a Blue Line Magazine staff writer and social media host. Contact: lindsey@blueline.ca.

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