Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine
The unintended release of an Ontario-wide alert about an “incident” at the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station on January 12, 2020, has sparked a provincial investigation into how such an error could happen.
The province’s Solicitor General said the error occurred during a routine training exercise being conducted by the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre (PEOC).
The PEOC – which is responsible for coordinating the provincial government’s response to major emergencies – conducts exercises testing the system twice daily, but there was no intention to notify the public, Solicitor Gen. Sylvia Jones said in an interview.
The investigation will examine the sequence of events that led to the alert being sent out and what contingency measures should be in place. Jones said she expects the results of the probe to be made public. The alert was pushed to cell phones across the province at about 7:30 am, and Ontario Power Generation (OPG), which oversees the Pickering plant, sent out a tweet about 40 minutes after the emergency alert saying it was a mistake. A follow-up alert was sent to cell phones nearly 2 hours after the original notification, and about an hour after the OPG tweet.
Jones said it took so long to send a second alert because the province felt it needed to “trust, but confirm” that there really was no impending disaster.
The original alert warned people within 10 km of the facility east of Toronto of an unspecified incident, but it went to residents all across Ontario.
Terry Flynn, who teaches crisis communications at McMaster University, said there’s a danger that this type of error will erode public trust.
“Whether it’s a nuclear plant or it’s a community flooding event, the systems are designed to help people make decisions that protect their health and safety,” he said. “When we have continuous problems in the systems, then we have a lack of trust and people begin to ignore them. So that’s the biggest followed from the scenario.”
What is left to be said? The government upset a great many people and had to back track to alleviate the fear.
I realize they needed to do this but questions needed to be asked and answered:
- where was the oversight in all this?
- Why was there not a couple of levels of redundancy so this could NOT happen?
- Did they learn from this event and ensure that it does not happen again?
- As an ‘essential service’ does OPG have a permanent corrective action plan or are they exempt of this?
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