Home field advantage

As community populations increase, agencies find creative ways to stretch budgets without compromising safety and security on the homefront


     Lt. Larry Hostetler, St. Lucie's bomb team commander, notes they have been the region's only bomb team for years because they were the only ones with a disposal unit. When funds became available, the practice continued and hundreds of thousands of dollars were saved by not duplicating services.

     Their equipment is helpful and well-utilized, because the off-shore area is also a former military training range. The bomb team is called to the area approximately 70 times per year for suspicious packages and unexploded military devices.

     Mascara attributes successful resource sharing to the cooperation among county agencies.

     "We meet regularly with county and city administration, law enforcement, Florida Power and Light's (FPL) nuclear reactor staff, schools and hospitals to be sure we are meeting the needs of our growing community," he says. "This incredible growth means our residents expect more services and we need to deliver."

Command central

     The Emergency Operations Center (EOC), which includes the county wide 911 call center, has been more active in recent years, according to Mascara. "We've had three hurricanes so we know our evacuation plans are working," he says.

     Tom Christopher, emergency management coordinator in St. Lucie County, says a new center with twice the staffing capacity is being built farther west in the county at the fairgrounds site.

     The current EOC was constructed with the nuclear plant in mind and is surrounded by an earth mound, designed to prevent radiation from entering the facility.

     In addition to the EOC, Christopher says there is a Mobile Command Unit (MCU) housed at the fire district that is used for large scale disasters including hurricanes, tornadoes or for an inter-agency response incident such as a plane crash. The MCU can be used by any agency within St. Lucie County, which eliminates the need for expensive equipment purchased by each agency.

     Mascara also notes that while the Port Authority controls the deepwater port in Fort Pierce, there is not an airport police agency at the St. Lucie County airport. "We are the airport police," he says.

     The sheriff's office is responsible for the many miles of waterways throughout the county which are not directly included in the Port Authority's jurisdiction and operate the four helicopters used by all county agencies for law enforcement and rescue.

     Tradition Field, Florida Atlantic University's St. Lucie West Campus and Indian River Community College all have their own security personnel, as does the county's food and chemical processing plants, two hospitals and water treatment facilities.

Secure nuclear energy

     Of the 64 nuclear reactor sites nationwide, St. Lucie County has two; the first reactor went online in 1976 and the second in 1983. Each of the FPL reactors provide 839 megawatts of electricity to the area.

     Nuclear power plants have consistently been held to a higher level of security practices and procedures with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) evaluations of all nuclear installations.

     According to Ken Clark, spokesperson from the NRC's regional office in Atlanta, the security at the St. Lucie plant is adequate. With recent hurricanes, the county and FPL have had several opportunities to practice their similar evacuation procedures.

     In terms of funding, Brian Jacques, security manager at the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant, says at the industry's cost they have significantly increased security since September 2001.

     According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear industry spent an additional $1.2 billion in security related improvements.

     As a private company, FPL and other power providers do not receive direct funding from DHS. The most visible enhancements are the concrete vehicle barriers around the site; more discrete are intelligence gathering and surveillance equipment.

     "After 9/11 we saw the public's attention to detail and reporting suspicious activity significantly increase, but as time passed, it lessened," Jacques says. "However, the industry's attention to detail has increased because the threat never goes away for us.

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