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County's response to ice storm was effective

Posted: May 7, 2014 - 12:07am

Beginning on Feb. 12, Winter Ice Storm Pax created and deposited heavy ice accumulations on trees and vegetation, which damaged and destroyed 15,000 trees – depositing debris on public property and public access areas across Columbia County.

Fallen trees were tangled up in power lines causing approximately 85 percent of the county to be without power at one time. Many people were without power, phones and connectivity for several days.

County commissioners, administration and department heads operated from the county’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) around the clock to assure a well-coordinated response effort was conducted. Public information was disseminated from the EOC around the clock to keep residents informed.

Approximately 240 employees from 13 county departments operated around the clock in the first 72 hours of the ice storm disaster performing critical emergency response functions to assure the safety of our residents.

Some of these departments performed front line emergency response functions and others served to support the emergency response by assuring that all technological and operational systems were in place.

1. Commissioners and Administration

2. Emergency and Operations EOC

3. 3-1-1 Call Center

4. Roads and Bridges

5. Sheriff’s Office

6. Fire Service

7. Traffic Engineering

8. Water Utility

9. Information Technology

10. Broadband Utility

11. Recreation

12. Fleet Services

13. Risk Management

County officials immediately initiated clean-up efforts to assist residents with debris removal. Fortunately, we did receive a Federal Disaster Declaration, assuring that most of the clean-up costs would be funded by FEMA.

Pre-event debris management plans and contracts were in place for this action, so debris pickups started on Feb. 19 and were completed on April 16. Approximately 540,000 cubic yards of vegetative debris were removed from right of ways in 48 zones throughout the county, including the cities of Harlem and Grovetown, resulting in about 125,000 cubic yards of mulch, which is now being hauled from temporary storage sites to final destinations outside of the county. This process will likely take several more weeks to finalize.

Staff have been working with FEMA to assemble all of the documentation for reimbursement. Initially, we have filed a $3,630,772.03 claim for the first 30 days of the debris removal and monitoring. We will receive 85 percent of that in federal funds, plus the state’s share.

Further claims are now being assembled for the 31-90 day time frame – to include debris removal and the emergency response cost – to assure that the final cost to the county for this devastating disaster will be minimal.

From the pre-event planning to the emergency response and throughout the recovery, we are most appreciative of the incredible teamwork across divisions and departments.

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