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Gov. Reynolds reflects on derecho recovery, preparation for next disaster

Published: Aug. 10, 2021 at 10:56 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Beth Malicki sat down with Gov. Kim Reynolds to reflect on the derecho, the failures and successes immediately following the disaster, and how prepared Iowa is for the next disaster.

This is the transcript of their conversation regarding the derecho.

BETH MALICKI: Thank you Governor for talking with me today. So you visited Marion and Linn County, the day after, the derecho you were on the ground. And we recently talked to the city manager Lon Pluckhahn who’s leaving, and he said that he just didn’t feel like he could trust the Red Cross, after what happened in the derecho because they weren’t able to mobilize very quickly. So he told us he’s planning on having self-sufficient Marion for 72 hours after a disaster because the help he expected just did not arrive in time. Iowa has tornadoes, floods, severe thunderstorms like a derecho. What do you say to people who are like, that shouldn’t happen.

GOV. REYNOLDS: Well, first of all, we were in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic so we had that going on across the state. And this was an unprecedented natural disaster, nothing like this had ever hit the state before you think about a 40-mile wide tornado and when you think about the number of homes that were impacted. A third of our counties were impacted again this was on top of the COVID, I think, actually, you know, we always learn from how we respond to disasters, that’s how we get better and that’s how we do things more efficiently, but you know we were on the ground the day after I think I had to DOT was actually on the ground, the day of, they started removing debris, and they actually got I think on average about 279 staff employees daily that were in multiple counties helping to remove debris.

BETH MALICKI: I had the opportunity to interview you, August 15 It was, I think by phone. And you said from a state perspective you’re just trying to streamline. Yeah, and talk to mayors, to see what are the gaps. What gaps, did you find?

GOV. REYNOLDS: Well, communication is always absolutely key. There’s a lot of infrastructure and agreements that are in place, so they can institute like different emergency managers from other counties can come on board and help. I witnessed that in Tamar, not only was I in Linn County but I also stopped in Tama and there must have been individuals from I think five or six counties surrounding counties that had, you know, came to help remove the debris and help offer help in any way that they could so communication is always on key. One of the things that we learned with this, I think, you know, it’s just a reminder that the ask has to come from the local government up. I think that the people think that the state steps in and takes over. And that’s really not the case because we don’t know the infrastructure that’s on the ground and so we need the local, local leaders or local emergency managers that are familiar with the resources that they have on the ground, to let us know where this they can step in and supplement, and you know the team knows that but sometimes I think we just you know it’s just like clicking through it and get it done and we’ll be there. I think on day two, August 11 I think I issued the state disaster declaration and that makes individual assistance available and helps open up state resources to help in any way that we can so, so that’s key. One of the things that we’ve learned and I kind of we kinda tapped into a little bit with the flooding along the Missouri, then you’ll be more, that when you’re qualifying for federal assistance, you have to you have to provide them some data that gives them some confidence that we actually do need federal funding. And so we were able to utilize technology and use drones to do an overview to start to put the maps together to start to collect the data to make the request to the federal government but when you think about it by the end of the week, we have secured state and federal funding opened up all federal funds for that disaster and that’s a really pretty quick turn around, especially when you’re it’s a presidential major disaster declaration which is different than just the emergency declaration.

BETH MALICKI: Sure. And as you mentioned the National Guard was on the ground in Cedar Rapids on August 14 there did seem to be some confusion as to who actually greenlit the National Guard, we did an investigation and found that Cedar Rapids leadership was surprised when the National Guard did come and we were trying to figure out, so who, who pulled the trigger who made it happen. Can you answer that?

GOV. REYNOLDS: The mayor would have had to pull the trigger.

BETH MALICKI: But he was surprised.

GOV. REYNOLDS: Well, I mean we had a conversation. But, here’s, I think we should focus on the guard was there. The guard showed up. We had 150 soldiers, men and women that were on the ground to help clean the debris to help move things forward and by the end of the within a couple of weeks I think they were up to 200, but they should have, I mean it needs to come again, the ask needs to come, and as you indicated, I was on the ground in Linn County and Tama. I had General Correll with me that day so there were informal conversations. He must have asked multiple times if there’s anything that we can do to help you let us know. So he was there with me on day two, as we were touring the damage and made it very clear, let us know how we can help Guard stands ready and willing to help in any way – and they did. They were really a key component for Alliant and Mid American and RECs, but in the other linemen from all over the country in Canada that moved into that city to start removing debris and Davenport and multiple areas.

BETH MALICKI: Yeah. And initially, the confusion it sounded like from the Cedar Rapids city leaders is they weren’t quite sure what the guard could do they thought they could only do a and b and then come to find out they can do C through Z, yeah. So has there been any effort, you mentioned communication as a gap to get the communication to all the municipalities like here’s what the Guard can do or should they know that?

GOV. REYNOLDS: Well, it’s a lesson learned. I mean, you know, we’re in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic, you had almost 600,000 homes without electricity. I mean, access to food, the debris, who couldn’t transportation vehicles couldn’t get through emergency vehicles so you know if that’s an area that we need to make sure that they know they do tabletops and training all the time, our emergency managers hold meetings, at least once a year where they all come together they do and an after-action review so that’s happening all the time and so this would just be another area that you know we understood there may have been some confusion, here’s what we can do here is what the request is and here’s how we can implement expedite and get the resources going.

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