August 2000

ORR has its fire plans, too
ORNL Reporter received a letter (box) from Los Alamos National Laboratory Director John C. Browne recently thanking Lab staff for their support after the disastrous Cerro Grande Fire, which destroyed more than 200 homes in that community. Many Lab employees chipped in to relief funds; UT-Battelle donated $5,000.

In late June it was Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s turn to experience a devastating fire after a traffic accident ignited the sagebrush that covers much of the landscape on the arid and virtually treeless Hanford site. Although nowhere near as much property damage occurred as at Los Alamos, a wilderness reserve was left completely scorched and Hanford officials scrambled to assure the public that the nuclear materials stored there were safe. (Storage areas there are essentially stripped of ignitable vegetation.)

On behalf of the University of California and everyone at Los Alamos National Laboratory, I would like to thank the staff of Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the support and assistance given to us during the Cerro Grande Fire.

Although this was a devastating experience for us, it showed how communities, individuals and organizations can come together to help each other in a time of crisis. We were overwhelmed by the outpouring of aid and support from throughout New Mexico and across the nation.

Your help at this very difficult time was greatly appreciated, and will be remembered as we begin the process of recovery and renewal.


John C. Browne
Los Alamos National Laboratory

ORNL’s wetter and more humid climate, in that respect, comes as a blessing. Pat Parr, who oversees the Oak Ridge Reservation, says that although forest fires aren’t as much of a threat in the usually damp Southeast, fire control is an important part of the ORR management plan. An indigenous six-legged resident has recently figured prominently in those plans.

The southern pine beetle’s recent heyday has ravaged the stately stands of pines on the ORR, and those dead trees represent fuel to burn, particularly during dry spells. Parr says where the beetles have been often determines where the dead trees are first removed.

“We direct our salvage operations along roadways and where the dead trees are near facilities,” she says.

The good news is that in the Southeast vegetation tends to spring back pretty quickly. That’s not the case out in the dry regions of the West, where plants grow much more slowly. Sage lands on the Hanford site that burned in 1984 are just barely getting reestablished.

The Oak Ridge Reservation’s beetle-ravaged pines figure prominently in fire-control plans.
Emergencies: Keep public informed
Much of the news from the Hanford and Los Alamos fires reached the public by way of an apparatus established through DOE’s emergency operations procedures. When emergencies and alerts occur at DOE sites, officials may decide to activate Joint Information Centers, or JICs, where news media and the public are provided information from officials from local, state and federal agencies. DOE and contractor employees, largely from the public affairs and facilities management groups, activate and operate the JICs, which receive their information from the Emergency Operations Centers.

The JICs were called together and staffed around the clock at Hanford and Los Alamos. At Los Alamos, where the intensity and proximity of the blaze caused the center to have to evacuate. If you heard some riveting public radio interviews on the fires, they may have been lab public affairs folks stationed at the JICs.

JICs are also part of the emergency operations and public affairs jobs at Oak Ridge. ORNL frequently practices activations of Oak Ridge’s JIC, which is located at the National Guard Armory in Lenoir City, just off Highway 95 at Eaton Crossroad.

A primary goal of the JIC is to always be ready to go into action. To date, no situation has ever necessitated activating, for real, the Oak Ridge JIC. The experiences at Los Alamos and Hanford show why it pays to be ready.

Traffic deaths sadden Lab community
ORNL staff members were shaken and saddened by the deaths of two top Wackenhut managers in a traffic accident near the Lab on Bethel Valley Road July 7. Walt N. Ferguson III and John Johns were killed instantly when a utility trailer detached from an oncoming truck and struck their car.

Ferguson was senior vice president and general manager for Wackenhut Services, which assumed the contract for security operations of the DOE Oak Ridge facilities last year. Johns was the director of personnel security and had also worked as a ranger in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Passenger Lynn Calvert, Wackenhut’s vice president and deputy general manager, was injured.

Mourners placed flowers where the two Wackenhut officials died.
The lunchtime accident, which blocked traffic for hours, was a sobering reminder, even with its freakish nature, of the risks drivers face every day. Bethel Valley Road is a normally friendly route that lacks the usual curves and hills of East Tennessee byways. It does, however, bear its share of traffic, including rush-hour and semi-truck traffic. Construction projects have also added to its load.

Operational Safety Services Director Carol Scott says that the safest thing to do when commuting to and from work is to keep your mind on it.

“It’s important to use good judgment when you choose to pass another vehicle. Don’t follow too closely and always be aware of our bicycling friends who share the road with us,” she says. “There is almost an endless list of safe driving tips that we all know, but the most important is the one to be alert as you drive.”

Reported by Bill Cabage


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