2020 echo response status analysis highlights communication breakdowns and coordination issues
Local and national emergency managers need more ways to share information and stay in touch during widespread and long-term power outages. That’s one of the findings of a review of the 2020 derecho, commissioned by the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Many of the challenges of the derecho were perfectly evident in the aftermath of the devastating storm: powerful winds had destroyed homes, crippled telecommunications, and left entire towns in the dark.
With damage estimated at $ 7.5 billion in Iowa, some 8,000 homes severely damaged or destroyed, and more than 585,000 residents affected by power outages that lasted for days or weeks, many residents of the Iowa had never seen anything like the August 10 derecho.
The state report released this week points out that the derecho was unprecedented, but local and state officials struggled with the fundamentals: Many residents say they were not told about the storm or its gravity; some local officials did not understand the state aid application process properly; state representatives did not have the correct contact details for partner organizations; and inconsistent support from reference groups like the Red Cross has forced officials to find new solutions to provide emergency shelter and food services.
According to the analysis, more training and education is needed to inform local emergency managers and officials, some of whom are part-time, of the appropriate procedures, roles, responsibilities and expectations.
“Requests for resources have been made to SEOC and directly to the governor by staff outside the county EMA offices. Concerns that political pressure caused bypassing the standardized resource request process at the local level made it difficult to manage resources, ”the report reads.
In the aftermath, many Iowa residents said they had never heard of the term derecho before and didn’t even know this kind of storm was possible. In the days following the derecho, Linn County Emergency Management Director Steve O’Konek told IPR he “didn’t know such a thing existed.”
“Many interviewees said they were unaware of the severity of the storm, leaving citizens in several counties unaware of the sustained winds from the force of the hurricane and the storm’s growing impacts on communities. on its way, ”the report said. “After the storm, long-term power outages and cellular disruption created growing concerns about the safety of citizens and needs that may not have been met due to the inability to communicate. “
One of the main goals of the IDHSEM report is communication disruption: massive phone and internet outages have resulted in strained resources, duplicated efforts and a lack of support for vulnerable populations like immigrants and refugees.
“There was no back-up process for communication and coordination for long-term power and cell phone outages. During the 14 days after the storm, communication capabilities across the state varied and in some areas there was a constant information conflict, ”the report said.
Examples of communication failures include reports of semi-trucks full of ice arriving in local communities uninvited and Ministry of Transportation workers arriving at dump sites only to find they had been given hours. incorrect operating procedures.
A year ago today, Iowa was hit by a derecho, comparable to a Category 4 hurricane.
Despite warnings from the National Weather Service and others, for many Iowans, the storm came on with almost no warning.
A year later I asked Iowans to recount this day: https://t.co/v4gcVYJUej
– Kate Payne (@hellokatepayne) August 10, 2021
The report specifically notes a lack of coordination and engagement with refugee and immigrant communities, who often face many linguistic and cultural barriers to accessing needed services. Dozens of immigrant families in particularly affected apartment complexes in Cedar Rapids have slept in the rubble of their homes for days, awaiting coordinated relief efforts.
“There is a lack of coordinated efforts surrounding the planning process and an additional need to consider cultural and linguistic needs. High-level community profiles for vulnerable populations, including refugee and immigrant populations in disaster situations, should be considered when developing a plan, ”the report says.
The report also notes that communities faced a number of challenges in their dealings with the Red Cross, a major provider of disaster relief services across the country. According to the study, relations between local and state officials and the Red Cross were “strained”. officials to form a working group to improvise new solutions.
The report presents a list of areas for improvement. The findings of the review are similar to those of reports written for Cedar Rapids and Linn County.