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Editorial: Lessons learned in flood make area safer

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The flood of June 7, 2008, caught everyone in this and surrounding communities by surprise. No one was prepared for the speed with which the rising waters inundated entire neighborhoods and business districts.

The unthinkable was made real, and decisions had to be made immediately and on the scene. Most of those decisions can now be described as seat-of-the-pants thinking.

All kinds of equipment were quickly mustered into service. Even backhoes were used to transport the elderly from their flooded neighborhoods to safety.

In other words, no one saw it coming.

The Flood of 2008 was a rare event, but almost immediately after the waters began receding and the community began the months-long cleanup and recovery effort, community leaders and emergency management officials were discussing what could be done when the next natural disaster of this kind occurs.

This process has taken a long path with several detours along the way, but what has emerged is a detailed and comprehensive plan that can be used in the future to deal with sudden and unexpected emergencies, such as the Flood of 2008. There are several elements in the overall response plan, but all are designed to guide responses to a major flood.

Several of those elements have already undergone tests using real-life scenarios. For instance, a flood response and evacuation plan has already been tested twice in large-scale City Hall exercises, where officials practiced the decision-making processes outlined in the plan.

The overall plan is certainly comprehensive as well as definitive. It clearly outlines who is responsible for decisions and when various components of the plan will be called into play. It even defines the point at which school buses would be commandeered for transport of victims and outlines safe routes for those victims to be transported to safety.

The decision-making process is only one of the major elements in the plan. Emergency management officials should have more time in the future to get their assets in place because of early detection systems that can determine when, where and by how much major flooding will occur.

The presence of upstream gauges on all streams and rivers that flow into the county and flood maps produced by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources have already bought valuable time for emergency responders in future disasters. Additional time has been gained by the development of the emergency notification system through which thousands of residents can be given immediate information by phone calls of impending danger.

Officials estimate that all of these combined elements could provide residents up to six hours of advance warning of a disaster so that they could quickly begin evacuating themselves, their families and valuables from an area about to go under water.

The Flood of 2008 is not quite five years past, but its lessons are obviously ingrained in many minds. It has been described as a 500-year flood, which some might take as reassurance that the community has approximately five centuries of breathing room.

Thankfully, local leaders have dismissed that notion and have set in motion steps to protect this and several generations of future residents. It is up to those future generations to make sure that these plans are preserved and improved upon.

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