MOSCOW, Ohio - In the chaos of last March’s tornado that leveled much of this tiny Ohio River village, authorities quickly discovered they lacked key information in early relief efforts.
As part of the review of their emergency response, officials examined Clermont County’s effectiveness in the wake of the March 2, 2012, tornado. The EF3 tornado was one of nine that tore through the Tri-State killing 11 and leveling 343 structures. In Moscow, the twister damaged 60 homes and left village council member Carol Forste dead.
The after action report, a routine review of disaster response, includes the best ways to seek resources in the event of a disaster and are based on a series of meetings with county emergency officials. Officials have met four times since the tornado and plan to meet again.
“This taught us who has what and how to get it here; and how to best institute it into our local response effort,” said Art Owens, the Washington Township fire chief.
Call immediately for help, equipment
When Owens first arrived to assess the damage, the village was without power, phone service and emergency communication radios were overloaded, he said. He was also greeted with 200 residents “standing at my back yelling at me,” he said.
Contractors and work crews, both private and public, swarmed the village with dump trucks and heavy machinery for the cleanup.
Owens said he called for a mobile command vehicle from Hamilton County, which provided he and his staff a more secure and quiet area in which to work. The unit arrived about five hours after Owens called for it.
“That changed the event dramatically,” he said. “We had audible communications back after [the radio] got so overloaded we would get busy signals when we tried to key up to talk to somebody.
“Once the first pieces of equipment came in, things began to get better instantly,” he added.
Clermont County Emergency Management Agency Director Pam Broughton echoed Owens’ sentiments about the initial response. She emphasized the importance of maintaining a conversation on available resources throughout the region before an emergency occurs.
“We haven’t really purchased new things [to prepare for disasters], it’s more about strengthening relationships so we know how to get those resources,” Broughton said. “Knowing who has those resources, who’s trained to use those resources and how to request them is important.”
Clermont County officials now have a better understanding of the resources available to them should another disaster strike.
Organize and mobilize volunteers
Volunteers arrived almost immediately after the tornado, but authorities did not know where to send them right away. A reception center was established by the next day.
In retrospect, Broughton said authorities would issue a statement advising the public on how to best respond in a future disaster, based on what authorities need at the time.
“At the beginning of [the emergency response], the volunteer help was too much,” Owens said. “We had volunteers showing up that night and we had not had time to establish a place for them to go.
“It was an accountability issue, we couldn’t let people just go in there, but over the course of the next few days, people were signing in.”
Volunteers were kept outside the village as firefighters went door-to-door surveying and assessing the damage, Broughton said. When emergency officials set up a volunteer reception center, volunteers were required to take a safety briefing and then were sent in groups to the village with defined tasks under the supervision of Owens’ command staff, he said.
“The goal is to speak with one clear voice,” Broughton said.
The Red Cross opened six shelters and served more than 13,000 meals in the aftermath.
Keep inventory of available housing
Authorities said they faced a crucial challenge they had not anticipated: Finding suitable housing for residents without an inventory of available units.
A total of 353 structures were impacted as a result of the tornado in Clermont County, 277 of which were residential properties. In total, 18 homes were completely destroyed and 19 more deemed to have sustained major damage, according to the Clermont County Emergency Management Agency.
Clermont County Commissioner Bob Proud said when authorities began taking inventory on the available rental properties in the area, maintaining a running inventory of available housing became a top priority.
Finding properties for residents was further complicated because much of the available rental property was already being used by Duke Energy site contractors working to upgrade the nearby coal-fired William H. Zimmer Power Station.
While it is out of local authority’s hands, Proud said he would have preferred the Federal Emergency Management Agency to conduct its assessment sooner than it did. FEMA officials arrived four days after the tornado. Ohio Gov. John Kasich initially declined to request for federal aid but later reconsidered.