Disaster declaration not issued after blizzard
The blizzard that rolled through the area last week prompted a response from the county’s emergency management coordinator. Larry Smith, the emergency management coordinator for Washington and Keokuk counties, was in contact with Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) foreman last Tuesday, Feb. 1. The DOT official informed Smith that they would pull their crews from the road at 7:30 p.m. because the snow was blowing so strongly.
“He told me the DOT would keep two reserve guys at the DOT shop (in Washington), in case they were needed for emergency services. They could lead an ambulance or a fire truck,” said Smith.
As it turned out, an ambulance was dispatched that night to transport a pregnant woman from Kalona to the Washington County Hospital. The ambulance got stuck in the snow shortly after exiting the ambulance barn, and the woman was instead transported to the hospital in a private vehicle.
When Smith was informed of the medical call, he submitted a request to the DOT to deploy a highway assistance team (HAT) the next morning to the DOT garage in Washington, in the event of similar emergencies.
Smith was also updating a Web site used exclusively by emergency personnel known as WebEOC. The Web site includes information on building and road closures.
“We use the Web site to post status updates, concerns and requests,” said Smith. “One status update might be that we’re closing the courthouse because the weather is getting worse. It could be an update that the DOT will pull its crew at a certain time. We post that information on the Web site, and all the authorized users can see it.”
Smith met with the ambulance director Richard Young on Wednesday morning. They scheduled a meeting later that day with the Washington Chief of Police Greg Goodman, Washington County Sheriff Jerry Dunbar and Washington County engineer Lyle Moen, who spoke about the secondary roads.
“Richard talked about the need to get ambulances out to the rural areas,” said Smith. “They had just got their ambulance building passable. We also talked about the possibility of using snowmobiles.”
At the meeting, Moen informed the group that it would take the county a couple of days to clear all the roads. He said they would do the primary routes first, trying to make them one lane and later two. When Smith drove back to Sigourney that afternoon, a portion of Highway 92 was still one lane.
“Fortunately, you could see far enough ahead of you to spot another car,” said Smith.
Moen said his crew worked tirelessly to clean up what the blizzard had done.
“All of our pieces of equipment were out, doing what they could to clear the roads,” said Moen. “Later that afternoon, the wind picked up and there was some drifting across the paved roads.”
On some of the gravel roads, the drivable portion of the road could only accommodate one lane of traffic.
In Washington, Mayor Sandra Johnson declared a “snow emergency” last week. Smith said a snow emergency is different from a “disaster declaration.”
“Once the city or county is overwhelmed beyond their capability to handle a disaster, that’s when they issue a disaster declaration,” he said. “The snow emergency is usually just for parking. It’s a way to urge people to park off the street.”
After a disaster declaration, different levels of government help each other in ways they do not normally. He said it can mean the state helping the local governments, or in some cases, the local governments helping the state. In Washington County, the county has better equipment for moving snow than the DOT does. Smith said county governments typically have more grader maintainers than the local DOT garage. Smith said that the DOT trucked in snowblowers and “V” plows from northwest Iowa to clean up the blizzard.
For more, see our Feb. 10 print edition.