Magazine article Public Management

After the Rescue Workers Go Home

Magazine article Public Management

After the Rescue Workers Go Home

Article excerpt

The year 2005 was arguably one of the worst in history for communities' being hit by disasters. From the tsunami in Southeast Asia to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on the U.S. Gulf Coast to the earthquake in Pakistan to the wildfires in Texas and Oklahoma, disasters literally and figuratively have destroyed whole communities. The nightly news reports have recorded heartbreak and despair as rescue personnel searched through the rubble.

After a time at any given site, though, the media leave, the rescue workers go home, and the process of rebuilding begins. Proceeding on the long road to recovery is difficult. How does a community pick up the pieces and move forward? How can community leaders restore what was and perhaps make it better than before?

To answer these and other questions, three ICMA members--Sandy Wanner, county administrator of James City County, Virginia; Clay Killian, county administrator of Aiken County, South Carolina; and Wade McKinney, city manager of Atascadero, California--came together to discuss how they saw their communities through disaster and on the road to recovery. The experiences and insights that they gained and that shape this article point out the real value of sharing information with peers and establishing support networks for disaster recovery.


James City County, Virginia

In recent years, James City County has been hit by a series of emergencies and disasters. On December 24, 1998, the area had a major ice storm that left some 98 percent of the county without power. The commonwealth of Virginia declared an emergency, and the county sheltered 30 people during the event. On September 16, 1999, Hurricane Floyd came through Virginia. The event caused a widespread power outage and dropped 14.3 inches of rain. During the storm, up to 95 percent of the county lost power, yet the locality was able to provide shelter for 166 people.

Hurricane Isabel came ashore and struck the area on September 18, 2003. This was a large-scale event that left 900,000 households in the commonwealth without power. In James City County, 100 percent of customers lost power, with some portions of the county remaining without it for up to two weeks. The locality housed 196 people and offered shower facilities for hundreds more.

Aiken County, South Carolina

On January 6, 2005, at approximately 2:40 a.m., two freight trains collided in Graniteville, South Carolina. The collision resulted in a catastrophic release of chlorine gas to the atmosphere from a tank car damaged in the derailment. This release rapidly vaporized to form a dense and highly toxic cloud affecting Graniteville residents and the employees of nearby Avondale Mills.

Other hazardous-materials cars involved in the derailment included two additional chlorine tank cars, one carrying sodium hydroxide, and another hauling creosol. More than 500 people sought medical attention, about 70 were admitted to area hospitals, and nine people were killed by chlorine exposure.

Ultimately, a one-mile radius around the crash site was evacuated, requiring some 5,400 people to leave their homes. Many of these residents, particularly those closest to the crash site, were out of their homes for about a week as the site was stabilized and cleaned.

Atascadero, California

On December 22, 2003, at 11:15 a.m., a 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck the central coast of California. The shallow, but powerful, earthquake uplifted the Santa Lucia Mountains and triggered a vigorous aftershock sequence. Although the epicenter was located just northeast of San Simeon, the most severe damage occurred in and around the cities of Paso Robles and Atascadero.

There were two deaths and 49 reported injuries attributable to the earthquake. More than 40 buildings collapsed or were severely damaged in the quake, and estimated damage to public property exceeded $70 million. …

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