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When Disaster Strikes?

A larger-than-normal number of devastating events have plagued the U.S. landscape throughout the early part of 2011.

While parts of the Southwest have been under severe drought conditions for months, the Northern Plains and Central United States have suffered record-breaking floods. Beginning in North Dakota and travelling the entire river basin to the Gulf of Mexico, the flooding from the Mississippi River and its tributaries had crests never before seen. The 48-foot crest in Memphis on May 10 was the highest since the floods of the 1930s.

The Southeast has experienced the most severe weather outbreaks ever. From April 25-28, NOAA has estimated there were 305 tornadoes from Arkansas moving northeasterly to Virginia.

These tornados were responsible for 326 deaths, hundreds of injuries and billions of dollars in property damage and economic losses. In the Tuscaloosa-Birmingham area, the tornado path measured 1.5 miles wide and stayed on the ground for 80 miles.

Wildland fires in Texas have consumed over 2.5 million acres.

While it would make for fascinating reading, it’s impossible to survey every fire department that has been affected. A large number have taken direct hits and countless more have come to their aid. What we’ve captured here are selected cities and departments, who have provided information on the major challenges they faced and the actions they took to overcome them.

Also included are examples of how other communities are engaged in the planning process so they can be better prepared when disasters hit their cities and towns.

We’re offering these perspectives so local fire chiefs and their department personnel can take a serious look at their planning and response capabilities within their own areas. With the assistance of the National Integration Center, the IAFC has been working with states to develop and exercise their state plans. The disasters of 2011 have been a true test of many of these systems.

Several key issues have surfaced as part of the reviews. These include the importance of:

  • Building in redundancy in case the primary infrastructure is damaged
  • Having adequate back-up personnel in case the individuals assigned to primary positions are not available
  • Regularly reviewing and forecasting vacancies in key positions and having a succession plan in place
  • Ensuring everyone in the department not only knows what’s in the plan, but also follows it when it’s put into action.

These issues will be included in future state-planning efforts as part of the IAFC’s mutual-aid efforts.

Bill Bullock is the IAFC staff liaison for the Emergency Management Committee (EMC).

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