Report says nearness of nuke plant helped Cedar Rapids during flood

Disaster preparedness was key in avoiding deaths

It can be good to have a nuclear power plant nearby if you have a flood disaster.

A new national study suggests that no lives were lost in Cedar Rapids’ flood disaster of 2008 because of the proximity of the Duane Arnold Energy Center to Cedar Rapids and the requirement that comes with a nuclear power plant in the neighborhood to plan and train for a radiological disaster.

The study’s report cites local emergency responders and health personnel who told the report’s authors that preparation and planning for a possible emergency at the nuclear plant "played a large role" in avoiding deaths in the "different hazard" that the flood disaster in Cedar Rapids in 2008 turned out to be.

The report, "Disaster Resilience: A National Imperative," is being published by the Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy, a joint unit of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine.

The report concludes that a key way to reduce the impacts of disasters is "to invest in enhancing resilience." Doing so allows communities and the nation to better anticipate disasters and plan for losses from them.

Mike Goldberg, director of Linn County Emergency Management who was the community emergency response spokesman during the 2008 flood, on Wednesday said that the national report’s conclusion mirrored what actually went on during the emergency response to the 2008 Cedar Rapids flood, a flood that also damaged the town of Palo next door to the Duane Arnold plant.

"Having relationships ahead of the disaster is a good thing," Goldberg said. "And because we are a radiological emergency response zone, we are able to drill and exercise with our partners in the various disciplines and jurisdictions many times a year so we’re all familiar with each other.

"There’s the old saying, ‘Disaster is a lousy time to exchange business cards.’"

At the time of the flood, community leaders in law enforcement, public works, transit, schools, hospital and other disciplines converged on the county’s Emergency Operations Center at Kirkwood Community College and got to work, Goldberg said.

"Everybody came in and sat down at their usual table with their usual phone and usual maps and usual equipment," he recalled. "It was just not a radiological event. It was a flood event. But they did the same mission."

Renee Nelson, communications and public affairs manager at the NextEra Energy Duane Arnold plant, on Wednesday said the Duane Arnold plant has operated safely and reliably for more than 35 years during which time the plant’s personnel has trained with city, county and state officials to ensure that the plant and community are fully prepared should something go wrong at the plant.

"These are the same drills that prepared our community to respond successfully to the floods in 2008," Nelson said.

Nelson quoted one piece of the national report:

"When the floods came, the people in the area and region knew each other. They knew what to do. … There was no loss of life as a result of all this training and preparedness they had done for a potential nuclear power plant accident, because they simply translated that to the flood issue."


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