City questions emergency preparednessRed Wing's top brass met with state and federal officials Thursday to discuss the city's ability to assist with emergency management at the Prairie Island nuclear plant.
By: Jon Swedien, The Republican Eagle
Red Wing's top brass met with state and federal officials Thursday to discuss the city's ability to assist with emergency management at the Prairie Island nuclear plant.
During the four-hour meeting held at City Hall, City Council and members from the Minnesota Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission discussed how they would respond in the unlikely event of radiation release from the nuclear plant.
The meeting was an attempt to clear up confusion over Red Wing's role in emergency preparedness.
It was a good first step, city officials said.
But a disconnect between the city and state remains. City officials say the state's plan is lacking. They also question whether Red Wing will have the manpower to rise to the occasion if there is an emergency.
Budget constraints will limit the city's ability to staff public safety departments in future years, they say.
"Just what is the standard we need to provide?" City Council President Mike Schultz asked, indicating Red Wing was looking for some direction from the state.
But there is no exact figure, according to state regulations, when it comes to the number of police and firefighters Red Wing should have on hand to deal with an emergency, said Minnesota Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Preparedness Branch Director Kevin Leuer.
The state coordinates the emergency responses in the event of a radiological emergency. It relies on cities and counties to help in those situations. But the role local governments play is based on what they say they can contribute, Leuer said.
"It's maintaining the standard you establish. I can't decide that for you," Leuer told the council.
In Red Wing's case, it has agreed to assist with emergency traffic control and evacuations, among other duties.
The problem, city officials say, is while they're confident they can respond properly today, they're not sure they'll be able to in coming years.
"How can you maintain if you have less people," police Chief Tim Sletten said.
His force has been down three officers for the past year.
@Sub Heads:Troubled correspondence
Thursday's meeting came about in part because of a troubled correspondence between Red Wing and the state this past spring.
In March, Schultz sent a letter to Northern States Power's emergency planning coordinator indicating Red Wing was unable to handle its responsibilities under the Prairie Island nuclear plant's emergency response plan. The letter cited budget concerns, including loss of state aid dollars and a steep decline in tax revenue from Xcel Energy, the nuclear plant's operator.
Leuer responded via letter, saying he was disappointed Red Wing was dropping its role. He added another entity would fill the city's shoes and Red Wing would lose funding dollars given for radiological emergency preparedness.
Council reversed course in a second letter and renewed the agreement outlining its role in the plan.
That agreement states Red Wing has reasonable assurances that it can meet the duties outlined in the agreement.
It's the phrase "reasonable assurances" that city officials say they're concerned with. They say the language is vague and they don't know what it means.
"I'm sure you can see why we're concerned with this reasonable assurance definition. It's what we're grappling with." Council member Lisa Bayley said. "This is where we're stuck. We're not sure what we're supposed to be demonstrating."
Council members have suggested authorizing a study that would define the number of police and fire personnel cities should have on hand to execute their duties as outlined in emergency plans.
Knowing that number, however, doesn't necessarily mean the city should staff at that level, Leuer said.
"No community can staff the necessary personnel for the worst possible situation," he said Thursday. "That's why they need mutual aid agreements."
Mutual aid agreements between cities state municipalities share resources in times of emergency. Kuhlmann said while those agreements are crucial, Red Wing shouldn't invest too much stock in them when it comes to a radiological incident. She said other communities have not had the training Red Wing has.
While there were some terse moments, the overall tone of the meeting was conciliatory. A number of issues remain unresolved, but the parties agreed to meet again.
"Let's sit down, have a cup of coffee and figure it out," Leuer said.