Learning from the Augusta Ice Storm

A year after the Augusta, Georgia, ice storm, this pieces takes a look on what lessons have (and have not quite) been learned.

According to a piece from The Augusta Chronicle, nearly half the 57 locations approved by the American Red Cross for emergency shelter did not have backup generators or an alternate power supply.

In addition, the city’s debris removal plan was an “incomplete draft” according to the article.

Fire Chief Chris James told the Augusta Chronicle that the city’s Emergency Management Agency has overhauled operations to address the problems it encountered.

Unfortunately, Augusta’s 311 customer service hot line has not made any changes yet. The service was unable to answer between 1,600 and 1,700 calls during the ice storm. According to the article, system director Kelli Walker said recently that plans for upgrading emergency staffing, technology and space requirements are still “in progress” or “being discussed” or “reviewed.”

Augusta Commission member Bill Lockett praised the EMA improvements but did not know about the issues with the 311 service. He aims to have a plan to solve 311’s “shortcomings” by next February.

“I think we have made great strides, but this is not going to be a one-time fix,” Lockett said in the article. “It is going to be a continuous process.”

As for EMA: immediately after the storm, the staff began making changes to emergency operations, volunteer management and debris removal plans. Now revamped, EMA’s emergency operations plan covers 15 functions, as the Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends – first aid, communications, mass shelter care and more. Other changes include: the office has five disaster assessment teams now, 17 firefighters and community volunteers who are trained to open emergency shelters and it plans to apply for a grant to buy five outdoor sirens, since Augusta doesn’t have any at the moment.

Augusta has also adopted Georgia’s Praise and Preparedness course, according to the Augusta Chronicle. The course is a grassroots movement that conducts church walkthroughs and give resources and information to the faith community for planning recovery efforts.

A new debris removal plan is one element of the changes EMA is making. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

After the storm, Augusta didn’t seek competitive bids for debris removal but used contracts awarded in 2010 in Chatham and Liberty counties to AshBritt, a hauling company based in Florida, and Leidos, a monitoring firm in Virginia. The practice likely increased debris removal costs, delayed repayment from federal and state emergency management, and resulted in the city getting only about $11.7 million approved for reimbursement. Augusta has appealed the decision to recover about half of the remaining $6 million paid in debris removal costs.

[Fire Chief Chris James] James said his office now has a three-year contract with Ceres Environmental Services to remove debris and the firm Witt O’Brien’s to monitor the effort and lead the financial recovery process. Each contract has no activation charge and two 1-year options to renew before the services are reopened to the public.

“We had on-call contractors for debris pickup and tree removal, but the amount of damage caused by this storm was more than we had ever seen,” James said. “We now have a more complete plan that will make the process work faster.”

 

For more, the original article can be seen here (the site requires you to share the article on social media or answer a simple question to see the entire article, no credit card or email sign-up required): http://chronicle.augusta.com/news/government/2015-02-11/some-city-departments-say-lessons-were-learned-ice-storm