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Serving the Region: Hershey’s Service During the Three Mile Island Emergency

The accident at Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station was the most significant accident in the history of the American commercial nuclear power generating industry. Though no one was injured, the accident caused a partial core meltdown of the Unit 2 reactor. The accident occurred just a weeks after “The China Syndrome,” a popular movie that told the story of a nuclear reactor accident. The movie served to heighten local and national fear of the nuclear accident.

Hershey, located ten miles away from the accident site, served an evacuation site for people living within 5 miles of the power plant. When the accident was announced, State authorities recommended that pregnant women and children evacuate the area. Hershey was designated as an evacuation site. Working with the State and the Red Cross, Hershey Estates and the Hershey Arena prepared to accommodate up to 25,000 people who lived within the radius.

When news of the emergency broke on the morning of March 28, 1979, Hershey Estates Arena staff were holding their weekly staff meeting. Paul Serff, then in charge of the Arena, remembered that the hockey team had been practicing on the Arena ice. Practice was cancelled and the floor was put down over the ice. Restrooms were stocked, refreshment stands were staffed just so that evacuees would be able to get water. Not knowing how many people might come, Hershey Estates was told to be prepared to host up to 20,000 people. The Stadium had been closed for the winter. Staff opened up its restrooms, because they knew that the Arena would not be able to accommodate so many people but they thought that people could at least wait in their cars and use those restrooms.

The Red Cross arrived in the afternoon. Cots were put up, TVs were hooked up and the Medical Center sent over staff and set up a medical station that had the capability to support labor and delivery. Though approximately 144,000 residents within a 15 mile radius of the plant evacuated the area during this crisis, most people found other places to go, whether family or friends. Over the course of the 5 day emergency, only 186 people, primarily women and children, lived at the Arena.

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