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HomeNewsCommunityDurham Region tests nuclear warning system next week

Durham Region tests nuclear warning system next week

Durham Region is testing its nuclear alerting system on Nov. 23-24.

This system is designed to alert anyone who lives close to a nuclear power plant about a potential emergency.

For people who live relatively close to the nuclear generating stations in Pickering or Darlington, you should keep not only your eyes, but your ears open as well.

According to a Durham Region news release, there will be a different alert sent to the public on each day, and on Wednesday, Nov. 25, the Province of Ontario will be issuing its own alert.

The release says on Monday, if you live within 10 kilometres of either plant, you will receive a phone call from 905-666-6291, with a pre-recorded message, explaining this is a test alert.

On Tuesday, residents within three kilometres of a plant will experience a siren test for around one minute and it can be heard by anyone who’s outside and within the boundary.

The Province of Ontario will be sending out its own test alert, separate from Durham Region. The province will use an Alert Ready system to send a notification directly to cell phones across Ontario, similar to an Amber Alert.

James Kilgour is director of emergency management for Durham Region.

“What we’ve done is we’ve aligned it so anybody in the Pickering or Darlington area on the Monday will receive the phone call, on the Tuesday they will hear the sirens and on the third day, they would receive the notification from the province,” says Kilgour.

“We’ve tied them together so it’s almost like an alerting week.”

He also says while it’s unlikely a real nuclear emergency will happen anytime soon, the more Durham practises sending out emergency alerts, the more prepared everyone will be if a real emergency happens.

Earlier this year in January, there was a false alert about the Pickering plant sent out by the Province. Kilgour, who has more than 20 years of experience as director of emergency management for Durham Region and the city of Toronto, knew right away it shouldn’t have happened.

The Pickering Nuclear Generating Station on a cloudy day.
The Pickering Nuclear Generating Station was originally built in 1971 and is located on the north shore of Lake Ontario. Photo credit: Durham Region

“I knew one minute after the false alert it was false. And then, anyone in charge like Durham police, fire stations said, ‘this is outside of protocol, this is not the way it’s supposed to happen’. We knew right away this was wrong, and then we got the confirmation it was a mistake,” says Kilgour.

Even though he knows Durham Region wasn’t responsible for the false alert, Kilgour says they are constantly testing their alert systems and have created test sites along with the Province of Ontario to allow workers to practise sending out alerts without actually sending them to the public.

“We reviewed our entire process when that false alert came out. We began to educate a number of people about what the difference between these two systems are, we’ve worked with Ontario Power Generation and we’ve worked with the Province of Ontario about using this technology for a nuclear alert, if it ever comes to,” says Kilgour.

In the event a real nuclear emergency happens, Durham Region recommends people tune into local media outlets for more information. Kilgour also says Durham Region receives instructions from the Province of Ontario on what kind of precautions they should release for people to follow.

“We direct people to seek information from the media. Whether it’s from CP24, CTV News or wherever the media you get your issue from, we direct people to then tune into the media to find out the information,” he says. “The Province of Ontario directs us to take protective actions. The instruction would be around, taking potassium iodide, sheltering in place, instructions might be about evacuations. Those are three common things the Province of Ontario would tell us to do.”

Durham Region has scheduled the next nuclear alerting system test for spring, 2021.