Lessons learned from the 2011 Mississippi floods
This spring’s Mississippi floods have been one of 2011’s worst billion-dollar disasters. However, the nation also learned several valuable lessons from the way in which emergency management officials handled the devastating washout of personal properties near the Mississippi River and its tributaries, says Jean Ann Riedell, a University of Phoenix instructor and subject matter expert for its emergency management courses.
“One of the biggest lessons learned is: What we teach [as emergency management educators] is what emergency officials truly apply in real-life cases like this,” says Riedell, an East Coast paramedic and former U.S. Air Force officer. “Public safety is number one.”
Communication aids public safety efforts
The strong emphasis also taught the nation the importance of communicating emergency management operations and intentions to the population during large-scale disasters. She observes people welcomed the plethora of timely information emergency management officials provided rather than panic as some feared would occur from information overload. This proved especially beneficial because the floods forced affected inhabitants to plan for evacuations that would displace them for long distances and long periods of time, says Riedell.
Further, she notes, officials’ willingness to communicate such important information for the first time through widespread use of local and national online media, YouTube™ and a variety of social media methods fed into the public’s calm.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh repeatedly emphasized public safety from day one when he announced the plan to blow up the Birds Point New Madrid levee in May, 2011, points out Riedell, also an engineer.
“Even the Birds Point New Madrid levee had its own Facebook® page with official postings every couple of hours to better inform the public,” marvels Riedell. Emergency management officials also recognized those affected continue to crave communication after the initial threat. Therefore, officials deliberately fed into the communications pipeline after the initial flood threat by offering information outlining mold identification, free tetanus shot vaccination opportunities and other relevant safety precautions residents should beware of when returning home, she says.
The power of collaboration and use of modern technology via government entities also served as “shiny examples” of effective emergency management lessons, says Riedell. She points to the Silver Jackets teams of various stakeholders that worked together to reduce the flooding risks. The Silver Jackets Initiative is a collaborative risk management program that took full effect during this flood, but was started following the 2008 Mississippi floods. The public also benefited from the National Flood Insurance Program’s interactive flood maps, which allowed people to gauge their properties flooding risk before the disaster literally hit home, she notes.
After the flood
Riedell remains optimistic that more lessons will continue to reveal themselves as the floodwaters recede simply because each natural disaster opens dialogue to minimize future threats.
“We will certainly see and hear more about how we can better communicate such future risks to the public,” she says.
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