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Annual exercise puts WIPP to the test

A radcon tech checks on a bloodied victim during the exercise
Radiological Control Technician Logan Norwood checks bloodied “victim” Derrick Jameson, a waste handler, for contamination following a mock accident during WIPP’s annual emergency exercise in mid-September.

A plane crashes at the WIPP site, bursting into flame and igniting a wildland grass fire. One of the plane’s engines smashes through the security fence and on through the wall of the waste handling building. Barrels of waste burst open, spreading contamination, and a waste handler is injured and contaminated.

That was the action-packed scenario for WIPP’s annual emergency exercise in mid-September, involving hundreds of employees at the WIPP site and at Carlsbad’s Skeen Whitlock Building.

A firefighter/paramedic wheels away a victim during the exercise
WIPP firefighter/paramedic Juan Moreno, right, wheels “victim” Nick Thompson from the waste handling building to a waiting ambulance as part of the WIPP full scale exercise in September.

In addition to dozens of drills throughout the year, the graded exercise ensures WIPP personnel are prepared to respond in an actual emergency.

Operators in WIPP’s Central Monitoring Room, with their hands suddenly extremely full, assessed the multiple situations and started to dispatch WIPP personnel. The incident commander put the call out for mutual aid from Carlsbad and Hobbs emergency medical services (EMS) to assist with the “injured” victims, and Eddy County Fire and Rescue to assist with the crash fire. Site personnel were directed to stay indoors, and office wardens begin the task or accounting for personnel in their areas. Underground personnel went to their assembly areas to await further instruction as radiological control technicians took readings on the surface.

In Carlsbad, the EOC was staffed and the adjacent Joint Information Center (JIC) began to field mock calls from the anxious public and media. The EOC worked with the facility shift manager at the site for an evacuation of nonessential personnel by bus. At the site, insistent media member “Chris Taylor” – actually Brett Hansard, the manager of the Risk Communication and Management program at Argonne National Laboratory – engaged with security personnel, trying to get more information.

A security personnel is pestered by a media member during the exercise
At the WIPP site, insistent media member “Chris Taylor” – actually Brett Hansard, the manager of the Risk Communication and Management program at EM’s Argonne National Laboratory – pestered security personnel, trying to get more information.


“The complexity was designed to test response efforts from multiple emergency response organizations like the central monitoring room, emergency operations center, joint Information center, WIPP fire and security departments, and outside agencies. The result was an exercise that challenged coordination and response efforts across the board,” said John Sanford, Nuclear Waste Partnership Emergency Management manager.

The event took months to plan.

“The WIPP full scale exercise was the result of a joint planning effort from multiple WIPP personnel and departments, as well as our mutual aid partners,” Sanford said. “While there were a few opportunities for improvements identified, the exercise was an overall success. WIPP Emergency Management wishes to thank all of the organizations that participated and supported the exercise from planning to execution, including mutual aid organizations and agencies.”