The last phase of emergency preparedness and probably the most difficult is recovery. The hardest part is usually the time factor as recovery efforts may take days, weeks, or months. Sometimes it may even take years and in some cases communities never fully recover from the affects of a major disaster. Lives were lost and afterwards homes are not rebuilt and some businesses never reopen. This causes an economic effect that may last for years. Businesses brought in tax dollars and in many cases provided jobs to the community. Local governments now have to do with less and rebuilding can be difficult.
As noted recovery is the last phase of an emergency preparedness plan but it probably is the most important. Generally speaking recovery is divided into two (2) phases. These are known as Short Term and Long Term!
Short Term Recovery Operations:
Short term recovery operations generally include restoring essential services such as utilities, clearing the streets of debris, and getting the local government back in operation so they can provide for the basic needs of their citizens. Short term recovery can last anywhere from a few days to more then a month, depending on the extent of the damage. In some cases in order to restore electricity the entire system has to be replaced. In Live Oak we are somewhat fortunate in that much of our electrical grid is underground and won’t be destroyed by high winds, a tornado, or ice buildup on the lines. It should also be noted that debris clearance from the streets does not mean complete cleanup.
Long Term Recovery Operations:
Long term recovery operations generally mean the rebuilding of a community following a disaster. This is a long term operation that can last for months or even years. Usually the most important issue is the complete clean-up within the disaster area and the removal of all debris from both public and private property. This program alone can take time and it is very costly!
In many cases the amount of debris following a disaster such as a tornado touchdown will be overwhelming. The debris may include the following:
- Construction Materials (wood, brick, steel, shingles, etc.)
- White Goods (stoves, refrigerators, washers and dryers)
- Woody Debris (trees and brush) and Furniture
- Automobiles, boats, trailers, etc.
- Household Hazardous Waste (cleaning products, pesticides, paint, etc)
- General Material/Items such as clothes, dishes, etc.
The debris within a disaster area must be thoroughly searched for possible victims that were unaccounted for following the incident. Hazardous materials sometimes are found during these searches and sadly the disaster sites sometimes must be classified as bio-hazard areas if bodies are located. This can further complicate the debris removal operations. In addition fire is always a danger and working in debris fields can be dangerous.
In the event of a major disaster like a tornado touchdown, the City of Live Oak will not have sufficient personnel to handle debris clean-up, and generally speaking most cities are not prepared to handle this task as special equipment will be needed. There are several companies located around the country who specialize in this task and are contracted to handle debris clean-up.
Included in the City’s emergency management plans for the Public Works Department there is a debris management plan that outlines a basic clean-up plan for the City. It begins with the clearance of city streets on a priority basis and then goes into the clean-up of both public and private property.
One of the most important parts of a “Family Disaster Plan” is being able to care for your family for up to 72 hours, assuming no one has been injured and your home is still intact. The reason for this is in the event of a major emergency or an actual disaster like a tornado touchdown, emergency services personnel will be extremely busy and will not be able to provide much assistance to you. In addition all utilities may be off and if debris block the streets you may not be able to travel. Therefore, it is recommended that families be able to care for themselves for up to 72 hours.
Actions Following a Disaster:
In the event of a disaster such as a tornado touchdown, and your home or business is damaged, there are some very important steps to take. They include:
- Make sure everyone is accounted for and that everyone is OK.
- Carefully exit the structure and be aware of the potential of falling debris.
- Be cautious of fire due to gas leaks and of live electrical wires.
- Move away from a damaged structure, especially if is more than one story.
- Once outside, survey the area carefully for additional dangers like downed electrical lines and gas leaks from neighboring structures.
- Do not smoke or allow anyone nearby to do so.
- If possible turn off all the outside breakers and the gas at the meter.
- If your home or place of business is severely damaged stay away from the structure and do not let anyone re-enter the building.
- Check on your neighbors and make sure they are safe.
- Call for assistance only if people are injured or if there are downed electrical lines, broken gas lines, or if a structure is on fire.
- Unless you have an actual emergency and you need assistance, please DO NOT call 9-1-1. Dispatchers and 9-1-1 call takers will be overwhelmed following a disaster and those people with an actual emergency may not be able to get through. In addition, telephone lines may be down and cellular service may become overloaded as well.
If severe weather continues to threaten the area, seek shelter in undamaged structures if possible. If assistance is needed, and you are unable to call for help, send personnel who are able to move about to get help. Emergency personnel will be converging on the scene and will seek out survivors and the injured.
In the aftermath of a disaster government actions will initially concentrate on rescue operations, firefighting, and search and recovery. At this point further recovery operations must be planned and the disaster area must be carefully surveyed. An initial damage assessment will be performed and this will start the process moving forward recovery. Sadly this can be a slow process!
Many people believe that the Federal Government will be there the next day if not sooner and will be providing all of the help necessary. In reality, local, county, state, and federal officials will be responding to assist, however the process takes time. The extent of the damage and the needs of the community and of the citizens must be determined before equipment and supplies can even be requested. Local governments do not possess the items necessary for this purpose such as bottled water and food to distribute to their citizens. Jurisdictions will coordinate with the local Red Cross to establish shelters in nearby facilities for people who have been displaced by the disaster and will work with them as best they can.
Once additional resources are available, additional assistance will be available. If needed a “Point of Distribution or POD Site” will be established at a specific location. The purpose of the POD is to distribute water, food, and ice. These are the essentials that will be needed for everyone still residing in the disaster area who may not have electricity or gas at their home.
At this point it is hard to predict what actions will occur as it will depend on the size of the disaster and whether it will qualify for state and federal aid. Substantial damage can occur however if the majority of the homes and buildings are covered by insurance that normally will not count to the overall damage figures. As a matter of information the damage must really be catastrophic to qualify for a disaster declaration and a Presidential Declaration that brings federal funding. If this does occur, notices will be posted for citizens affected by the disaster to call the FEMA telephone number to register for aid and various types of assistance centers will be established.
In closing, the most important part of recovery is to be prepared by having a plan and a disaster supply kit. For additional information regarding this subject contact the Office of Emergency Management.