Linn County Emergency Management denied and ignored possible help after the derecho

Published: Sep. 10, 2020 at 7:15 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Help was available for the people of Linn County after the derecho on August 10, but Linn County Emergency Management declined it from other public agencies and private companies.

According to emails I9 obtained through a public records request, Linn County Emergency Management Coordinator Steve O’Konek denied relief efforts from other county emergency management agencies.

The documents also show O’Konek ignored relief efforts from different organizations and corporations, while thousands of people were searching for food and shelter.

In one email, the Delaware County Emergency Management Coordinator offers to send staff to help recovery efforts for multiple days in Benton County and Linn County.

But Steve O’Konek, who is the coordinator for Linn County’s emergency management, denied the help.

“We got whacked. No internet, no cell, we are on generator,” he said. “I think we’re good for now.”

In another email, an official from the breakfast chain restaurant Denny’s reached out to Linn County Emergency Management Agency in the immediate aftermath of the storm to offer cooked food to individuals affected by the storm.

However, O’Konek never responded to the email, and the mobile food truck for disaster zones went to another location out of Iowa.

O’Konek, who was hired back in February 2018, said he declined the help from the Delaware Emergency Management Agency because he didn’t know what the county needed for its relief efforts at that point.

“I anticipated the need for that," he said. "But, I also didn’t have a way to saying ‘oh yes please come help us’ because we need you. What if they showed up and we didn’t need them?”

His response occurred the following day after the storm.

O’Konek said it’s the job of Non-Government Organizations(NGO’s), particularly United Way, to organize volunteer efforts rather than the Emergency Management Coordinator who is doing other jobs.

He did acknowledge there are ways his department can improve.

United Way of East Central Iowa said the county activated the Emergency Volunteer Reception Center Tuesday, August 11. United Way said its registration portal was up on Wednesday morning on August 12.

The vacuum left in the initial days from United Way not organizing those efforts led to other people organizing themselves, like Raymond Siddell.

He created the Iowa Derecho Storm Resource Facebook page, which now has more than 67,000 members.

Siddell said he was feeding thousands of people a day at the beginning of the recovery out of a real estate office. He’s continued to operate relief efforts out of a warehouse.

Siddell said the emails are heartbreaking because he saw families who were in desperate need of help.

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