Emergency preparedness problems still exist at DOE sites: report

Washington – The Department of Energy still has "significant weaknesses" in its emergency response and operational continuity programs, according to a new audit (.pdf file) from the DOE Office of Inspector General.

DOE is responsible for maintaining the safety and security of nuclear materials, and for responding to nuclear incidents to ensure lives and property are protected. The National Nuclear Security Administration, a unit within the department, is tasked with developing DOE's overall emergency preparedness and continuity planning policy.

In its January report, OIG found that despite steps to improve emergency preparedness, weaknesses still existed because of insufficient oversight by management. "Although we observed that the department's requirements and the implementing guidance were well defined, the effort to ensure full implementation was less than adequate," the report said.

Among its findings:

  • DOE sites did not complete all required emergency planning.
  • Officials did not always adequately resolve emergency management issues.
  • Sites did not always share lessons learned or track performance metrics.

OIG also reviewed DOE's Continuity of Operations, a program designed to ensure essential department, program and site functions continue during and following a "major disruption."

Investigators found:

  • More than half of DOE’s units did not submit individual, updated continuity plans.
  • Verification of whether COOP planning was completed was not always done.
  • Site offices did not always ensure contractors developed and implemented complete COOP plans.

The report provided several recommendations, including validating efforts to correct deficiencies found during emergency management drills and requiring full implementation of COOP – all of which DOE and NNSA said they would address. The audit was a follow-up to a report (.pdf file) OIG issued in 2004.

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