Annual Exercise Demonstrates Response Community's Ability to Meet the Needs of the Whole Community

Annual Exercise Demonstrates Response Community's Ability to Meet the Needs of the Whole Community

Members of Maricopa County Animal Care and Control practice monitoring a dog for radiological contaminants during the annual Reception and Care Center drill on March 12. All the animals used in the exercise (and many others) are available for adoption at

BUCKEYE, AZ--It was spring break in the Buckeye Union High School District two weeks ago, which means there were no classes at Youngker High School in Buckeye, Ariz. But that doesn’t mean no one on campus was learning.


Youngker High School was the site of a Reception and Care Center (RCC) drill on March 12. State and local agencies must annually demonstrate the ability to manage evacuees in the unlikely event of an incident at Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station.


As with any RCC exercise, the Maricopa County Department of Emergency Management (MCDEM) had to demonstrate the capability to process 20 percent of the population living within the 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone (or 130 people) within 12 hours. With local high school and Junior ROTC students acting as evacuees, the county was able to meet that requirement in about 90 minutes.


Of course, the RCC would stay open as long as it took to serve every evacuee. An RCC is something that you want to set up quickly to serve the immediate needs of the public, and then demobilize as soon as possible; however, MCDEM Director Pete Weaver said meeting the needs of the Whole Community is most important.


“It is important to treat everyone who comes into the RCC with compassion and patience,” said Weaver. “These people have been forced to evacuate their homes with only what they can fit in the trunks of their cars and without knowing when they’ll be able to return. They are going through a traumatic experience; therefore, it is our duty to always think of the evacuee when determining how the RCC will be setup and operated.”


A stop at the RCC is an essential piece in people’s evacuation plans. It’s where evacuees and their small pets can go to be monitored for radiological contamination, register with MCDEM as having evacuated the area safely, receive Potassium Iodide if prescribed by the Director of the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, and find a place to stay.


If something did happen at Palo Verde to cause evacuations, MCDEM would activate its Emergency Siren Alerting System. Those who live within the 10-mile EPZ know that if sirens sound they should tune to a local radio or television station for instructions on what to do next.


“Depending on the situation at Palo Verde, Gov. Doug Ducey might decide to evacuate people to a Reception and Care Center,” said MCDEM Operations Manager Julie Syrmopoulos. “If asked to go to an RCC, it’s important that people remember to bring their important papers, prescriptions, personal need items and pets.”


Youngker High is one of three area schools pre-identified as RCC locations. The others are Desert Edge High School in Goodyear and Wickenburg High School in Wickenburg.


The RCCs are operated by MCDEM and the American Red Cross in cooperation with other state and local agencies, including Maricopa County public health, animal care and control, and sheriff’s office; the City of Buckeye fire and police departments; the Arizona Department of Economic Security; and the Arizona Radiation Regulatory Agency (ARRA).


ARRA field monitoring teams operate the portable radiation monitors that every evacuee must walk through before entering the RCC. On March 12, ARRA staff also exercised its new RAD Bump, a device that looks like an ordinary speed bump except this one is used to detect radiological contamination.


Toby Morales, the Emergency Response Program Manager at ARRA, said before getting the RAD Bump it took an average of 5 minutes to sweep a vehicle with a handheld device, which in an actual activation could cause gridlock at the entrance to the RCC. Now that they have the RAD Bump, Morales said they can check a vehicle within seconds and with up to 90 percent certainty. Not to mention there’s less of a chance of traffic jams.


The Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) shares oversight of the Offsite Emergency Response Plan with MCDEM, and supports the RCC by providing technical communications. The Strategic Technology Reserve is a fleet of five utility trailers. Included with each are laptops, 800 megahertz radios and a generator. Three of the trailers are pre-stationed in Pima, Navajo and Mohave counties. The other two are kept at DEMA and used to support off-site operations like the activation of an RCC.


FEMA won’t release its official review of the March 12 exercise for about 30 days. However, Weaver feels the exercise went well, in large part to the 150 staff and volunteers who regularly train and annually exercise their roles in the RCC.