Lithuania’s State Level Functional Civil Protection Exercise

“Response To A Nuclear Accident In Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant”

By Mr. Edgaras Geda, Head of Civil Protection Board, Fire and Rescue Department, Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Lithuania

Lithuania assessed Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant (Belarusian NPP) as a possible threat and in 2018 updated the State Residents Protection Plan in Case of a Nuclear or Radiological Accident (hereinafter – Plan) approved by the Government of the Republic of Lithuania. The Plan lays down roles and responsibilities of all state and municipal institutions in terms of preparedness and response to a nuclear or radiological disaster. The Plan was updated according to the recommendations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and foresees a number of different protective actions to be implemented. In case of a nuclear or radiological emergency it is essential to ensure prompt and effective response, especially in the first phases of a disaster.

The exercise. It took place on October 1–4, 2019 and activities were distributed across the eastern part of Lithuania and the capital.

The participants. There were representatives from 17 institutions working at the National Emergency Operation Centre (NEOC), while 19 state institutions and municipalities worked at their own Emergency Operation Centers (EOC). The Emergency Commission of the Government meeting was attended by representatives from 20 institutions as well as representatives from State Nuclear Power Safety Inspectorate and State Food and Veterinary Service. The exercise was evaluated by foreign experts (United Kingdom, Poland, Estonia and Latvia) and Experts Group from Lithuanian institutions (Fire and Rescue Department, Ministry of Health, Ministry of National Defence, State Border Guard Service, Vilnius District Municipality).

The objective and goals. The main objective of the exercise was to improve and put into practice the skills of the civil protection system entities in performing the functions defined in the National Plan for Protection of Population in Case of Nuclear or Radiation Accident. 10 goals of the exercise were related to the assessment of the actions of NEOC and EOC of corresponding state and municipal institutions and agencies.

The scenario. The Belarusian NPP is declared with a general accident class. IAEA informs that the release of radionuclides into the environment is unavoidable and may occur in the short run. Residents call emergency number 112 and ask for more information about the situation at the Belarusian NPP. On the basis of unsubstantiated information from social networks on unclear incidents at the Belarusian NPP, commercial television channels inquire about the accident and inform about concerned residents in Vilnius, Šalčininkai and Švenčionėliai districts.

Course of the Exercise.

Day 1. Actions by NEOC, EOC of state institutions and municipalities.

The exercise started according to the scenario when the institutions received the information from the State Nuclear Power Safety Inspectorate about an accident at the Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant. Then followed the activation of NEOC, EOC of 12 state institutions and 6 municipalities. Non-governmental organizations and volunteers were also called. During the exercise, environmental authorities provided information on contamination, based on the data provided by the Radiation early warning and monitoring information system (RADIS) and assessed by Accident Reporting and Guiding Operational System (ARGOS). According to the data provided, health authorities evaluated and presented their conclusions on the urgent protective measures to apply (population sheltering, evacuation of residents, respiratory protection, iodine prophylaxis). The Emergency Commission of the Government requested from the Government to make a declaration of state-level (absolute preparedness) emergency and to use state reserve measures. The Commission also made a proposal to the Prime Minister on appointing a commander of emergency operations. In this regard, the appointed person was Mr Algirdas Šešelgis, Vice-Minister of Health. Information and recommendations for residents were provided daily on the website www.lt72.lt and daily press conferences were held.

Data update and transfer about the current situation. During the exercise, two data exchange platforms were tested, namely, NextCloud and ArcGIS. In the process of exchanging the data, participants faced some difficulties while carrying out the instructions by NEOC coordinator.

Public warning and information. During the exercise, at 10:15 of the 1st October, the siren warning system was tested throughout Lithuania. Siren warning system was monitored via ArcGIS platform. Data was submitted to the system by an EOC representative and NEOC had the possibility to observe the results of the siren warning system. 67 out of 70 sirens worked properly, therefore demonstrating an efficiency of 96%. The information on warning, exercise and major recommendations in case of nuclear accident, prepared by the Ministry of the Interior and Fire and Rescue Department, was broadcast by the Lithuanian national radio and television. A test on emergency radio and television messaging system was also done, during which TV viewers could see a running warning line and hear a notification through the radio about checking the warning and information system. Public information by cell broadcast messaging reached more than 70% in the inspected wards. However, a small part of residents did not receive the messages due to technical reasons related to network development by their operators and insufficient number of licenses.

Information (textual and visual – maps, icons) was provided to residents on the website www.lt72.lt. However, increase in the number of visitors resulted in short-term malfunctions on the website.

Day 2. Inspection of the Functions Foreseen in the National Plan for Protection of Population in Case of Nuclear or Radiation Accident: procedures of residents’ evacuation, iodine prophylaxis, residents’ decontamination, invoking civil protection supplies from State reserve.

The exercise continued by carrying out iodine prophylaxis distributions, organizing the evacuation of residents and the decontamination. Residents from Lavoriškės and Buivydžiai wards of Vilnius district had to be evacuated to Kalvarija municipality, while residents from Magūnai and Prienai of Švenčionys district had to be moved to Zarasai district municipality. The Fire and Rescue Department and the Lithuanian Armed Forces supported the decontamination process of residents in Vilnius and Švenčionys district municipalities.

Actions are planned in case of declaration of a state level emergency due to an accident at the Belarusian NPP and after declaration of a state-level (absolute preparedness) emergency. Recommendations on protective measures for residents were prepared by the Radiation Protection Centre (RPC) and approved by the Ministry of Health.

Actions made by NEOC. On the instructions of the Commander of Emergency Operations, the Fire and Rescue Department delivered state reserve civil protection measures to Vilnius district municipality and carried out residents’ decontamination. The Police department under the Ministry of the Interior coordinated and blocked the contaminated zone in the relevant territories (Medininkai, Rukainiai, Mickūnai, Bezdonys, Sužionys, Dubingiai, Joniškis, Švenčionėliai, Švenčionys). The whole contaminated territory could be accessed by forces of the civil protection system only. NEOC also studied the question of the provision of specific and necessary protective equipment to the forces (respiratory protective equipment, potassium iodide tablets, protective suits and individual exposure dosimetry control devices).

Actions made by the municipalities. There were 2 residents’ assembly points created in Vilnius district (Buivydžiai and Lavoriškės wards), where 118 imitation potassium iodide tablets were distributed. 50 residents were registered and put under radiation exposure control. 20 residents from Mickūnai went through the decontamination procedures. Decontamination was carried out by 12 officers of the Vilnius Fire and Rescue Board. Other 2 residents’ assembly points were established in Švenčionys District (Prienai and Magūnai), where 62 imitation potassium iodide tablets were distributed. 50 residents were registered and received radiation exposure control assessment. 20 residents were contaminated. Decontamination was carried out in Švenčionys by 18 soldiers of the Lithuanian Armed Forces. 4 contaminated soldiers and 3 employees of municipalities also had to go through decontamination process. 200 imitation potassium iodide tablets were distributed during the second day of the exercise (for both residents and officers of civil protection system). 40 residents went through decontamination procedures, while 100 residents were temporary evacuated to Kalvarija and Zarasai district municipalities.

Day 3. Inspection of the Functions Foreseen in the National Plan for Protection of Population in Case of Nuclear or Radiation Accident: air-borne radiation monitoring, sampling selection and supply to laboratories by relevant forces, organization of residents’ temporary relocation.

State Border Guard Service and Lithuanian Armed Forces, together with experts from the RPC, carried out air-borne radiation monitoring by using MONA equipment. According to ground-based radiation monitoring plan, prepared by the RPC, Fire and Rescue Forces carried out ground-based radiation monitoring in the contaminated area. Organization of residents’ temporary relocation from Šalčininkai District Municipality to Varėna district municipality was organized as well.

Actions made by NEOC. Questions regarding existing and needed material resources by municipal and state institutions were raised and addressed. Lithuanian Armed Forces and State Border Guard Service were requested to assist RPC while carrying out air-borne radiation monitoring. Information was constantly renewed and provided to the press and the public via national website. Findings by the Ministry of National Defence on malfunction on the national website was assessed.

Actions made by the municipalities. After evaluating the data of automatic radiation monitoring stations, it was decided to organize temporary residents’ relocation from Šalčininkai district municipality to Varėna district municipality. Temporary residents’ relocation started at 12:00. Residents were placed in collective protection structures. Police forces were in charge of the public order, road traffic regulation and the convoying of evacuated residents.

Air-borne radiation monitoring. According to air-borne radiation monitoring plan prepared by the Radiation Protection Centre, representatives of the RPC, State Border Guard Service and Lithuanian Armed Forces carried out aerial monitoring in Vilnius and Švenčionys districts.

Ground-based radiation monitoring. Ground-based radiation monitoring started at 12:30 in Vilnius district. Forces also carried out dosimetry control and sampling (grass, soil, drinking water from wells and from open water). After evaluating the radiation monitoring data, the RPC recommended to population of Švenčionys district (Magūnai, Sariai, Strūnaitis and Pabradė wards) to come back to their residences.

Benefit of the Exercise.

The exercise allowed to test and practically check the implementation of functions foreseen in the National Plan for Protection of Population in Case of Nuclear and Radiation Accident. Preparation for the exercise and exercise planning conferences were beneficial since participating institutions could better understand the complex issues related to a potential accident at the Belarusian NPP. It also ensured inter-sectorial cooperation and common understanding of carrying out the functions. Information about the exercise was provided through public information tools both before and during the exercise, which resulted in raising awareness of the website www.lt72.lt, shown the possibility of warning and information via cell broadcast messaging and gave some basic knowledge about potential nuclear and (or) radiological accident and what actions should be taken.

It was the first time that the Emergency Commission of the Government was convened during an exercise and strategic level decisions were made in order to handle the situation.

The exercise also proved the successful use of ArcGIS platform. It contributed to a better exercise organization, justifying management decisions and public information on the exercise as well as providing recommendations to residents. ArcGIS platform is accessible to the public and can therefore be used not only for exercise and educational purposes, but also for the emergency management.

Inspection of residents warning system was carried out in time. Despite some circumstantial obstacles, all system elements (sirens, warning messages, emergency radio and television system, warning and information through radio and television) worked. The results were submitted to NEOC with the support of ArcGIS platform. During the exercise, 70 sirens were tested, among them – 3 sirens did not work. Warning by messaging reached 70,2 %.

The exercise also outlined for the first time the established inter-institutional press-center. The press-center carried out strategic communications, coordinated information provision to the public and work with media/press representatives. Press conferences were organized as well. Information about the exercise was provided not only to Lithuanian, but also to foreign media.

The exercise was observed by high level representatives from Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania and other Lithuanian institutions, as well as evaluators and observers from the United Kingdom, Poland, Latvia and Estonia.

Generalization and Recommendations.

The Exercise objective, which intends to improve and put into practice the skills of entities of civil protection system in performing the functions defined in the National Plan for Protection of Population in Case of Nuclear or Radiological Accident, has been achieved.

Main figures of the exercise:

  • 19 Emergency Operations Centers took part in the exercise;
  • More than 300 entities of civil protection system were involved in the exercise activities;
  • 128 474 residents were warned in the zone of the accident;
  • 6 radiological contamination maps with recommendations were prepared to residents;
  • 150 residents were evacuated and temporary relocated;
  • 200 imitation potassium iodide tablets were distributed to residents;
  • 100 residents were provided with radiation exposure control;
  • 40 residents were decontaminated;
  • 2 helicopters were involved for the air-borne radiation monitoring, 3 groups of officers of Fire and Rescue Department were involved for ground-based radiation monitoring (in total, more than 50 samples were taken, dosimetry control was carried out as well);
  • More than 60 foreign and Lithuanian journalists were accredited, 4 press conferences were organized.

Edgaras Geda is the Head of the Civil Protection Board of the Fire and Rescue Department under the Ministry of Interior. He took up this post in late 2016. From 2012 to 2015, he worked as a Civil Protection Attaché at the Permanent Delegation of the Republic of Lithuania to NATO. In this position, he was primarily responsible for the representation of national interests to international organizations (NATO, EU, UN, etc.) in the field of civil protection. From 2000 to 2012 he served at different positions in the Fire and Rescue Department under the Ministry of Interior. His primary responsibilities were related to fire safety regulatory functions and industrial accident prevention. Mr. Geda started his professional career in February 1997 as a firefighter. In 2010, Mr. Geda defended his PhD in Technological Science. His scientific interest focuses on fire safety engineering and structural behaviour in fire. He speaks English, Polish and Russian.