Audit finds DOE could improve emergency preparedness

The Department of Energy could be better prepared for emergencies at four sites with nuclear materials, including Hanford, according to a DOE Office of Inspector General audit.

The audit released Wednesday found that Hanford was better prepared in key planning areas than three other sites the audit team visited.

However, the audit showed concerns about repeated problems with communications during emergency drills at Hanford.

"During multiple exercises, emergency personnel had to resort to alternate communication equipment, such as personally owned cellular phones, to communicate during the drills," the audit said.

Information was not available late Wednesday afternoon on whether Hanford had corrected that problem.

Hanford had completed all required planning documents -- Hazards Surveys and Emergency Planning Hazards Assessments for all facilities -- which some other sites surveyed had not. Also included in the survey were the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois.

Hanford could have done a better job sharing information across the DOE complex, according to the audit.

Although Hanford officials shared information on what improvements were needed after drills among its contractors, only about a quarter of the "lessons learned" between 2004 and 2010 were entered into a national system to be shared with other DOE sites, the audit found.

"While operations vary from site to site, we noted that contractors had identified similar emergency management issues, such as deployment of the emergency response organization, notification and communication processes and adequacy of policies and procedures," the audit said.

Sharing information on how a problem occurred and how it was resolved could help other sites avoid similar issues, the audit said.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; More Hanford news at hanfordnews.com