Monday, June 23, 2008

The First 13 Days of the Flood of 2008

Flood of 2008 through the eyes of the Columbus Emergency Operations Center

This week I thought I would dedicate my column to giving you an idea of what went on here in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) during the Columbus flood of 2008. The center was set up on the second floor of the fire station and was the command center for the flood disaster. The EOC team is made up of representatives from the Police Department, Fire Department, Library, Red Cross, Department of Pubic Works, County EOC, Health & Human Services, City Administration and Water & Light. Decisions were made based on safety and minimizing risk to human life… and we were successful. No one died in the flood of 2008, and there were no major injuries. Our secondary concern of course was to minimize loss of property.

So here’s how the emergency played out from the eyes of the EOC…

Day 1- Saturday, June 7th, 2008
The rains came. Flash flooding occurred in the Parkview area where the small creek ran over the banks and flooded the streets and people’s homes. Fire crews were dispatched to the flooded area and each home was checked to make sure that occupants were in a safe place. The fire trucks were used to transport people out of harms way. The deer pen flooded and the deer were rescued and moved to higher ground. The flooding at this time was mainly in the small streams that run through Columbus. At 3:00 pm I declared the City of Columbus a disaster area. We met with Dodge County Emergency Management Services and Dodge County Sheriff Todd Nehls and received information on emergency services available. Sheriff Nehls helped us get about 37,000 sandbags delivered to our city.

Day 2 – Sunday, June 8th, 2008
Today began with a success. During the initial EOC assessment we found the doe who had been separated from her fawn, and herded her into the pen where her fawn had been rescued. The Crawfish River was rising and we consulted with the owners of the Larsen House and decided that it would be best to move the residents to higher ground. This turned out to be a very good decision as things got more complicated late on Sunday night as the Crawfish River continued to rise. Sand bagging operations were in full force at the City Garage and Meister Park. These sites were later under water and needed to be moved to the fire station. Water & Light began cutting power and gas was turned off in residents that were under water to prevent injuries. The EOC began operations 24 x 7. The 16/60 bridge was closed. Initially the DNR asked us to park a fire truck on the bridge to give it extra weight, but after the water continued to rise we decided to take the truck off for safety.

Day 3 – Monday, June 9th, 2008
The EOC was in full alert mode at about 3:30 in the morning when we realized that there were a number of residents on River Road who were trapped by the flood waters. Calls were made to Beaver Dam to coordinate a water rescue and over 100 residents were taken to safety by air boat and hovercraft. Apartments at Fuller Street and Dickason Blvd were also evacuated. The Parkview area water had receded, but the Crawfish River was rising significantly and the 16/60 bridge remained closed. DPW decided to reinforce a section of the dam with breaker rock. The Red Cross set up a shelter to provide assistance and we began using inmate labor to help fill and distribute sandbags.

Day 4 – Tuesday, June 10th, 2008
Hwy 151 and Hwy 73 bridges were closed in Columbus making travel very difficult. 16/60 remained closed along with many city streets. The sand bag operations continued at the fire station using inmate labor and many volunteers. The Crawfish River continued to rise and crested at over 2 feet above the record for the Crawfish. The National Guard took me on a fly over of our city in a Blackhawk helicopter. It was really unbelievable to see the extent of the devastation to our community. E-Coli infections were reported in people who were in contact with the water. We continue to provide education on handling flood water. As residents began to clean up their homes we had requests for dumpsters and contacted Badger Disposal. It was decided that garbage would be handled under our existing policy. There are very few dumpsters available in the city at this time.

Day 5 – Wednesday, June 11th, 2008
Today began with a reorganization of the EOC center establishing clear roles and responsibilities and a chain of command. The weather forecast for Thursday indicates a high potential of heavy rain, high winds and possible tornados. A pet rescue was made to the River Road area. We mapped the flood levels and reopened the hwy 73 bridge. DNR Secretary Matt Frank inspected our city and offered assistance. We began stockpiling sandbags. The river was dropping at about 1” per hour, but heavy rains were in the forecast. The library set up a website to provide information on the disaster.

Day 6 – Thursday, June 12th, 2008
FEMA arrived in Columbus today and began an initial assessment of the damage to our city. The rains came and a tornado was site just south of town by the hospital. Concrete blocks were placed on the 16/60 bridge as people continued to drive past the barricades and onto the flooded bridge. The park reflooded today. There were looters reported on River Road. We provided over 1500 sandbags to the operation to save the downtown in Beaver Dam. The head librarian, Peggy, was named Public Information Officer. We were contacted by Senator Feingold, Congresswoman Baldwin, Representative Fitzgerald, DNR Secretary, State FEMA, Kleefish, SBA representatives, and USDA representatives.

Day 7 – Friday, June 13th, 2008
FEMA continued their initial assessment of the damages to Columbus today visiting many homes and businesses in the affected area. River Road continues to be closed and the Crawfish River is rising. Residents are anxious to get back to their homes to do an initial assessment and pick up belongings. The road is too flooded to reopen, but we decided to run school bus shuttles into the affected area. After about 4 hours the buses shuttles had to be halted because the water had risen to dangerous levels It is below the crest achieved on Tuesday evening but well above flood stage. A tetanus clinic was set up at the Senior Center and workers who had been in contact with the water were encouraged to get a tetanus shot. Tammy Baldwin walked around and visited home owners in some of the flooded areas and promised support and help getting aid to our community.

Day 8 – Saturday, June 14th, 2008
I was contacted early in the morning letting me know that we would be having a 10:00 visit from the Governor Jim Doyle, Adjacent General of the Wisconsin Guard Dunbar, the head of FEMA, the head of SBA, and many other VIP’s. They arrived in 3 Blackhawk helicopters and landed at the Columbus Middle School to meet with folks affected by the flood and the workers who were helping. A.G. Dunbar approached me and offered National Guard high water vehicles to transport residents into the River Road area. They had now been out of their house for 5 days and were very anxious to return. People were cutting across the back way to their homes putting themselves at risk, and we wanted to help them with a safe way in as soon as possible. The National Guard arrived in the afternoon and the shuttles began. Columbia County was declared a federal disaster site, and this laid the groundwork for receiving FEMA money. We also began focusing on mental health issues. People were very stressed and workers at the EOC were so busy they were unable to provide the time folks needed to express their frustration. The local pastors began providing counseling and visits were made to some folks homes.

Day 9 – Sunday, June 15th, 2008 – Father’s Day
National Guard high water vehicles continue to run to shuttle people into River Road. An early morning inspection of River Road showed one area where there was 6” of water and another with 11”. DPW director Dan Jensen and I believed that with sandbagging and pumping we would be able to pump the water down to a level where the road could be opened. Sandbagging and pumping began and by late afternoon River Road was opened to residents… 7 days after the flooding began. National Guard security was called to establish a check point at the top of River Road to ensure that everyone in the area was a resident. They kept the check point in place through Monday evening.

Day 10 – Monday, June 16th, 2008
DPW is looking into spraying some of the flooded areas for mosquitoes as this is a public health concern. A sandbag removal plan was discussed and we decided to have the inmates return to Columbus on Wednesday – Friday next week to take the sandbags away and properly dispose of the sand and the bags. We will be hiring a private contractor to inspect the 16/60 bridge to speed up the process of reopening that road. National Guard security remains on River Road.

Day 11 – Tuesday, June 17th, 2008
The 16/60 bridge was inspected and opened!! FEMA will be asking for public sector cost estimates, and every department in the city has been asked to pull together their flood related expenses and get those costs to City Clerk, Anne Donahue. There has been equipment damaged from flood water, gear ruined, trucks that need to have brakes and wheel bearings checked in addition to physical damage to roads, buildings, etc.

Day 12 – Wednesday, June 18th, 2008
60 inmates came to Columbus today to work on removing the sand bags and disposing of them according to DNR standards. The Red Cross has set up a feeding area and will deliver water to the workers on site. Clean up of sandbags began at Meister Park and will continue in the Avalon Area and River Road. There are still about 32 people without electricity in their homes. We are out of well test kits and more have been ordered. There is a big effort underway to identify homeowners who need assistance and partner them with volunteers who can go in and clean basements. Please call the Library if you need assistance or would like to volunteer

Day 13 – Thursday, June 19th, 2008 and beyond
As I send this to the newspaper we are beginning to plan for the 13th day of this disaster. The EOC will continue to operate as long as there is a need. We meet every morning to discuss areas of concern and coordinate activities. The police reported that with the opening of hwy 16/60 bridge they are “back to normal”. Our main activities now are clean up, cost estimates and communication to residents. I’m really looking forward to the time when we can close the center knowing that the emergency is behind us and the citizens of Columbus are safe once again. We are taking some time to thank the many municipalities and government agencies that helped us in this disaster. Volunteers stepped forward and helped save our community and keep us safe. We will be celebrating some of our heroes this summer at the city picnic.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Police Department Improvements

Have you noticed the recent changes in our Police Department? There are a lot of things happening. Dennis Weiner was named the interim Police Chief on March 1st, and he has been moving and shaking to reorganize and implement improvements to service and utilize police staff more efficiently. The first thing you may notice is an increased police presence on the street. Officers have been directed to spend more time out of the office and on the street patrolling. They must be present at the schools in the morning and when schools let out in the afternoon, helping keep our children safe.

Interim Chief Weiner requires more follow up on complaints. He has set up a program to review all open calls. Each incident is actively investigated and a solution found whenever possible. It is annoying when citizens call the Police Department with an issue, and then nothing seems to happen. This is a policy change that keeps the police on top of criminal activities in our town. The “bad guys” realize when we’re not following up on petty crimes, and it makes us a target for illegal activities. In the future, Interim Chief Weiner plans to fill one of the vacant positions in the Police Department with an experienced investigator. This will increase efficiency even more. Earlier this week Madison police reported that they do not have the staff to investigate drive offs at gas stations. They only deal with property and personal damage crimes. Our Columbus Police Department provides these services. We take complaints and follow up on minor issues, keeping the small problems small and preventing crime. This is a quality of life decision for Columbus. I like the fact that the police are there when I need them. It makes me feel safe in my community and provides a level of service that cannot be found in many large cities.

Interim Chief Weiner is out on the streets doing some of the patrols. I rode with him on the graveyard shift last week. We checked out a number of businesses, pulled over some suspicious folks, ran plates on cars parked in unusual places, and had some routine traffic stops. Dennis and his family have lived in the Columbus area all of his life, and he knows and loves our community and his passion is to keep us safe. It is wonderful to see the increased police presence and a renewed sense of community in the Police Department.

And you know dispatch is completely transitioned to Columbia County. There have been virtually no problems. All calls are accurately dispatched and the Police Department has administrative staff dedicated to transcribing reports and providing customer service. We receive excellent reports from County that provide information on calls and activities within our department. When officers come on duty they log onto the dispatch center computer system, and each time they are sent to a call their whereabouts is tracked. This creates a record of all officers’ activities for the day… providing management with data that can lead to process improvements and increased productivity. Columbia County provides reports showing peak call times, and officers’ schedules have been adjusted to balance the number of officers on duty with community need, making the entire department run more efficiently.

In the summer there is an increased need for police presence in our community. Thank you to Interim Chief Weiner and the entire Columbus Police Department for finding innovative ways to serve Columbus with minimal staff and maximum efficiency. We currently have 9 officers, 2 vacancies and 2.5 administrative folks. Filling one of the vacancies with an investigator will increase skills and keeps the department below budget… building a lean, efficient Columbus Police Department.