Disaster Relief Effort
Excerpts from comments made by Doug Ahlberg, Lancaster County Emergency Management Director, at the news conference held Tuesday, June 1:
On the overall state of the relief/cleanup effort:
In talking to my counterparts from FEMA, they seem to think that we're well advanced in our response to this most recent disaster, as compared to other events they've been involved with in other parts of the country. We are in the ‘recovery' stage of this operation (Hallam). The Nebraska State Patrol and the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) will be leaving the village of Hallam at about 5 p.m. today. The checkpoints will then be staffed by the Lancaster County Sheriff's Department. The Lincoln-Lancaster County mobile command post will remain in the village of Hallam until the village of Hallam says they no longer need it. We are setting up an information center at the Legion Club in Hallam that will be staffed by volunteer groups that will be providing direction, not information. That's important to understand. They will be providing direction of where to go, not information. There's a lot of people out there who have questions concerning insurance, debris cleanup, etc. Citizens need to call the toll-free number provided by FEMA, or go to Cortland or, after Wednesday, to Weeping Water to get the straight scoop on what they need to do as far as the recovery process is concerned.
On the efforts of the numerous volunteers:
We are still utilizing volunteers in Hallam and in the County, especially in the County right now. I went through a prioritization process and when you look at the number of people affected, our number one priority initially, was Hallam. Over the last week we have been sending crews of volunteers out to the various affected locales in Lancaster County, as well as Gage and Saline County. Where ever the need is, we've been sending volunteers. Sometimes they've been in large numbers, sometimes they've been in small numbers. But, we have been making quite an impact on the needs out in the counties, and I emphasize counties. We still have needs out there. There are people who have basically lost everything and they really don't know where to go or what to do.
The spirit, dedication and commitment that I see from people who live in this state and the surrounding areas; it's just outstanding. You can't measure the effectiveness and the willingness to contribute that these people have.
On State of Nebraska involvement and other agencies helping with the effort:
The State Patrol and NEMA will be leaving Hallam. Holland and Hickman are two villages that we've been trying to care for. I think that we're meeting all of their needs as best we can at this point in time. I do know that Hallam has a water issue. I think the people of Hallam need to understand that the water issue is eliminated by just boiling their water.
Realistically, when you look at an event like this, there are so many groups that come together – the Red Cross and Salvation Army have just been tremendous. But not only those civil support groups, but the outpouring of commitments from the various businesses, especially those in Lincoln, has been outstanding.
Have we learned anything from this from a "preparedness" standpoint and how did we do as far as being ready for something like this?
Anytime you have an event like this, if you don't "debrief" and take the opportunity to learn from your mistakes, then you're missing the boat. There are things that I have learned. I found that equipment needs to be updated. I found that communications, an issue we are faced with almost daily, is imperative. We have been taking strides in the last two years with federal funding through the Office of Domestic Preparedness and Homeland Security to upgrade those communications systems. The compatibility of equipment is right now, an issue that we need to address, but it functioned very well compared to what it would of done two or three years ago. When you talk about communications between agencies, we did not have communications problems. It's not just communications, however. We have a Mobile Command Post that is aging and it's more-or-less worn itself out. The generator went belly-up, it quit working. We've found that we need to take the steps to replace that stuff; it's something that we've never used before in a real relief scenario.
Lancaster County Emergency Management
575 S. 10th Street, Lincoln, NE 68508