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If the 2007 Flood Struck Lewis County Again, What Would be Different?
[December 11, 2012]

If the 2007 Flood Struck Lewis County Again, What Would be Different?

Dec 11, 2012 (The Chronicle - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Editor's note: Today we continue our look back at what has changed in the five years since the worst flood ever to hit the Chehalis Valley roared through our communities in early December 2007.

Emergency management officials learned several things from the 2007 flood. From technology, advanced, warning systems to handling donations -- local leaders said if a major disaster were to strike the community again, they would be better prepared for it.

While local authorities cannot predict or anticipate when the next major disaster will hit, said Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield, they can continue to better prepare for when it does happen.

"I don't want people to spend their time fearing something we can't control," Mansfield said. "We don't control these kinds of things, but we do need to spend time protecting ourselves, our families and our communities." Better Technology, Faster Response If a flood like the one five years ago were to hit again, one of the biggest improvements would be the advanced flood warning system, said Ross McDowell, deputy director for Division of Emergency Management for the sheriff's office. Due to the developments in communication technology, in addition with more intelligence coming from the National Weather Service, local emergency responders are capable of giving citizens a more advanced warning about flood conditions.

In the 2007, people had little to no warning about the flood because the intelligence was not there, he said. Now, in theory, they would be able to warn people 24 hours before it happened, giving people enough time to evacuate, if need.

The warning system cams as a result of the installation of a weather radar out on Langley Hill, north or Aberdeen, by the National Weather Service, in addition to an upgrade to the river gauge out in Doty, which now allows them to forecast flood conditions better, McDowell said.

Another improvement is communication between the sheriff's office and the county's residents, he said. They now have stronger partnerships with media outlets, and emergency alert systems that send notifications to people's cell phones.

"Warning people is the biggest thing," McDowell said. "If you can get the information to them in more than one way that is the best." A Community Comes Together to Rebuild The biggest lessons learned from 2007 was how resilient the Lewis County community is, Mansfield said.

"The biggest one is that we can work together locally to overcome incredible obstacles," Mansfield said. "It is a lesson we can do this under adverse conditions." Government agencies are only capable of so much, Mansfield said, ultimately, most of the recovery effort falls back on the individual communities.

"If you depend upon government and FEMA to do everything for you, you're going to be disappointed," Mansfield said.

One of the things the sheriff's office encourages citizens to do get flood insurance because government help only goes so far, McDowell said.

"They will give you a helping hand to get started, but they won't rebuild your house," McDowell said. "Get flood insurance. That will help you rebuild your house." Donations Flood in, Creating the 'Second Disaster' Another challenge for emergency management after the 2007 flood was learning how to manage the donations that came pouring in to help flood victims, McDowell said. It was time consuming, and resource heavy process that turned into a "big fiasco." After major disasters, relief organizations need donations of money, sometimes drinking water and food, he said. Often, however, people donate items that they no longer want or use, which means the agency distributing donations ends up with useless stuff such as bikinis, old underwear, and worn-out tennis shoes -- all of which were items they received from donors in 2007.

"We call it the second disaster," McDowell said.

People do not do it viciously, he said, adding that most people do not realize the impact it has on the people trying to organize donation efforts.

"If you wouldn't wear it, don't donate it," McDowell said.

In an effort to prevent the "second disaster" from happening again during future disasters, McDowell said they partnered with the national agency called Volunteers Organizations Active in Disasters who agreed to come in after a disaster and handle that portion of the relief effort. That organization specializes in warehousing and distributing donations.

In addition to partnering with VOAD, the sheriff's office has also since networked with several other volunteer agencies that they will be able to reach out to for assistance.

That networking will allow outside volunteer organizations to respond faster, which in turn will allow personnel at the sheriff's office to step back and manage the various groups instead of trying to do the whole recovery effort by themselves, McDowell said.

___ (c)2012 The Chronicle (Centralia, Wash.) Visit The Chronicle (Centralia, Wash.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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