The following guest post comes from Elizabeth McAndrew-Benavides, senior manager of workforce policy and programs at NEI:
Anne Shatara is a single, working mother who in addition to her regular job at a nuclear energy facility has an intriguing third job. She is part of the facility’s emergency response organization (ERO).Anne is just one example of many Mothers in Nuclear who also serve on an emergency response team. They are all smart, organized women who are dedicated to keeping us safe.
"I hold the position of dose assessor," said Anne. "In the event of an emergency, this position is responsible for gathering data and determining if radiation is leaking from the facility."
Many wonder who is eligible to serve on an emergency response team. The answer is almost any nuclear power plant employee. Once eligible, employees receive specialized qualification training; they participate in numerous drills and annual re-qualify for their assigned position.
Anne's position requires her to report to her assigned emergency response facility within 60 minutes of a declared emergency. She said she held an emergency response position before having a child and has continued to hold it since her child was born five years ago.
"Personally, I did not ask to be removed from the ERO after his birth," said Anne. "During my maternity leave, other ERO members qualified for the same position were responsible for covering for me while I recovered."
As a single mother, being on call to respond to an emergency does create logistical challenges. "When my son was younger and I was on-call, I always made sure there was an emergency bag in the car with us," Anne said. "That way, in the event I had to respond during non-work hours, I would have snacks, toys, diapers, and extra clothes for him."
This preplanning paid off for Anne. Two years ago she had to take her son with her when her facility scheduled an off-duty ERO drill. Anne said, "I was making dinner when my pager went off. I had to drop what I was doing and report to my ERO location as soon as possible. "
Many have asked Anne if she reconsidered her position on the ERO after the tragedy in Fukushima. Her response was unequivocal. "I never question participating on the ERO. I feel it is part of my responsibility as a nuclear energy facility employee."
Many worry that ERO members will respond differently in a real situation than they do during a drill. Anne rejects this claim and explained, "We frequently conduct drills in order to prepare for an event if one was to take place. As any high performing team practices before a game, we practice like it’s a real event so we know what to expect and gain proficiency on our emergency response procedures and protocols."
Ann said she's seen this preparedness put into practice the one time she had to respond to an Alert at her facility. An alert is the second lowest level of emergency.
"It happened during work and my son was at childcare," said Anne. "I responded to my facility as required but my first phone call was to the preschool followed by a friend to ensure my son would be picked up and cared for until I was released."
The Alert ended after seven hours, and Anne was able to pick her son up from her friend. "Knowing my child was cared for and safe allowed me to focus on my task at hand as an ERO member."