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Responding to Tennessee Floods and Storms

On April 27, the line of severe thunderstorms and tornados that struck much of the southeastern United States made its way through many counties in East Tennessee.

Tennessee’s mutual-aid plan (PDF) was used to quickly summon search and rescue teams, incident management team (IMT) members and other resources to support the local rescue efforts in the hardest hit jurisdictions. Some of these resources responded from over 200 miles away.

The mutual-aid rescue teams provided a wide-area search to evaluate the damage and check for casualties.

Almost as soon as the response efforts were complete in the eastern part of the state, members of the IMT were actively involved with the County Emergency Operations Center and helped with operations regarding the damage caused by the historical flooding of the Mississippi River in Memphis and Shelby County.

The IMT helped prepare the plan and coordinated the development of a forward command area. This area was used for coordinating police and fire agencies that were notifying residents that their homes were projected to be in the flood areas and processing flood evacuees for sheltering.

The IMT also developed a plan for emergency water rescues in the event of flash flooding or the need for rapid evacuations.

As the situation evolved to recovery, the IMT helped develop the plan for identification of volunteers and construction contractors that would be working in the flood areas. This was mainly done to protect the homeowners in the flood areas from scams and theft.

Due to the flooding in Shelby County/Memphis, Tennessee Task Force 1 (TN-TF1: a FEMA USAR team) was placed out of service because of the potential for a local disaster. The TN-TF1 headquarters were in the flood areas, though the trucks with equipment had been relocated so they would be available.

Many TN-TF1 members helped with the local IMTs. Additionally, TN-TF1 sent canine search teams to Tuscaloosa to assist. TN-TF1 returned in time to be placed on alert by FEMA to respond to Joplin, Mo., though this was later cancelled.

The value of the Mutual Aid Program continues to be reinforced as departments across the state came to the aid of each other, including some agencies that had received help during the May 2010 floods and were now able to return the favor.

Kevin Lauer is a fire management consultant from the University of Tennessee.

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