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Dealing with disaster

Dealing with disaster

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    Photo: Todd Anderson/Black Star

    Laurence Letellier worked closely with local government agencies, FEMA, and power companies to efficiently clean up after two back-to-back hurricanes in September 2004.

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    Photo: Todd Anderson/Black Star

    Gregory A. Frink (left), and Reginald Willis Sr. from the Marion County Code Enforcement Department had to carefully assess the debris removal in the right of way. They investigated and documented illegally dumped debris from the hurricanes.

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    Photo: Todd Anderson/Black Star

    Employees at the Emergency Operations Center worked together to coordinate incoming calls about flooding, debris, and downed power lines. Planning ahead for an event like a hurricane can help centers like this run smoothly.

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    Photo: Laurence Letellier

    Removing trees and other debris from the right of way fell to the public works department.

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    Photos: Laurence Letellier (left) and Todd Anderson/Black Star (right)

    Burning debris (left) and chipping debris (right) were used to eliminate vegetative debris. Burning is generally cheaper than grinding due to the need to haul away and dispose of the chips.

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    Photo: Laurence Letellier

    Although Marion County is landlocked, flooding was a problem, especially for emergency crews trying to get through.

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    Photo: Thompson Pump

    This shows one of 10 permanent Thompson Pump emergency backup pumps used by Regional Utilities in Walton County, Fla. The pumps are equipped with automatic start/stop systems.

Preparing For Debris

We did not have a debris management plan in place, nor did we have appropriate publicly owned sites available for debris collection/reduction, so after the first storm hit we had to line up these sites and a main staging area. We currently are working on our debris management plan to address these issues so we are ready to activate sites as soon as needed after a disaster.

Road access must be adequate for the main staging area-used for briefing and dispatching debris crews each morning- and debris collection and reduction sites. However, the sites also should be as remote as possible from occupied areas, particularly if you burn debris, to minimize smoke and ash complaints. Even if you grind debris, the noise factor dictates sites be located away from populated areas.

We were able to get permits to burn at most of our sites but with the provision of using air curtains. We had to stay in compliance with state and federal environmental regulations. Burning is generally cheaper than grinding due to the need to haul away and dispose of the chips. We opted to grind at certain sites where smoke and ash were issues for surrounding property owners.

Early in the cleanup, we found some contract crews causing damage to county rights of way, so we quickly put a process in place to take complaints and track these on a spreadsheet. Joint inspections by a county inspector along with an inspector designated by, and in the employ of, the contractor visited each site to determine if negligence was involved on the part of the debris collection crew. We held the contractor responsible for making repairs according to written repair standards.

Marion County's final cost of the hurricane response is approximately $28 million. Our final FEMA reimbursement is unknown at this time and will be subject to an appeals process. We, along with other communities, have made it clear to FEMA officials and legislators that there needs to be clear direction from the start, conveyed to the local level accurately and uniformly. We hope this will be the case in the future. Better still, we pray we never have to deal with a disaster of this scale again.

Letellier has worked in the Marion County Florida Transportation Department in various capacities for 28 years. He is currently the operations support division manager for the department.

Visit the Marion County Web site at www.marioncountyfl.org and follow links to Transportation Department Emergency Management to view examples of the SOC Emergency Response Plan and spreadsheet forms and standard operating procedures for some of their processes.