Joe Burton, county emergency management coordinator, discussed lessons learned while assisting Caruthersville respond to and recover from tornado damage with Scott County commissioners during their regular meeting Tuesday.
Assisting Caruthersville was "a tremendous learning experience," according to Burton. "Recovery is just as important as the response. It affects the economy big time."
As what facilities will remain intact following an emergency is unpredictable, Burton said several secondary emergency operation centers need to be designated in advance.
"I think it's something we really need to look at hard," he said. "There needs to be a backup."
One problem Caruthersville experienced was in tracking down its leaders. While the mayor was available, "they couldn't find any other city council members to make decisions for four hours," Burton said. "Nobody knew where anybody was, nobody knew what anybody was doing."
Burton said the Sikeston Department of Public Safety fortunately had the foresight to set up a staging area which was a significant help to the response efforts in Caruthersville.
"Responders came from everywhere," he said
Burton said Scott County should establish predesignated staging areas. He suggested using schools as they have plenty of space and facilities such as restrooms.
Another problem Caruthersville experienced was in taking several days to come up with a damage assessment so the city could file for assistance.
"It took them two or three days to get things to the state level," Burton said. "All you need initially is a quick estimate ... and that gets the process started. ... The longer you wait, the longer it will be before people get help."
Burton said he is working on forms for officially requesting assistance and declaring a state of emergency.
A solid, coordinated command structure should also be determined in advance, Burton said. He suggested the county should form an Emergency Management Action Committee which would include community leaders and clergy in addition to first responders.
Scott County should also arrange for shelters as there are "very few designated shelters" in the county presently, Burton said.
In Caruthersville, about 150 people were at the city's shelter the first night.
"People really didn't realize the amount of destruction there was," he said. "This was the worst I've ever seen. That same tornado went across the river and killed 12 people in Tennessee."
Once a shelter is designated, the Red Cross needs to conduct an inspection to make sure it is suitable. The organization will then assume responsibility for the approved shelter so the building owners "don't have to worry about repairs and liability," Burton said.
Portable lighting is also "something we need to look at," he said, as Caruthersville would have been pitch black if not for the two light trailers brought by the Sikeston DPS.
County emergency management needs to be ready to take care of not only the rural areas, but also small towns in the county that don't have their own emergency management directors, Burton said.
Even with planning, emergencies are overwhelming at best, Presiding Commissioner Martin Priggel said.
In other county news discussed Tuesday:
* Scott County Consolidated Drainage District No. 2 is putting its money to good use.
Using tax revenues collected in December, the district hired Bill Schlosser Excavation to restore ditch bottoms to their original specifications and clear west banks of vegetation.
The district drains the east side of Scott County, according to Commissioner Jamie Burger.
Bob Laseter, chairman of the district's board, said 20 miles of St. John's Ditch and Blue Ditch have been cleaned out since January. Work is also slated for the Northcut Ditch.
While there have been some complaints related to reducing wildlife areas, most residents in the district are pleased to see the ditches being maintained.
"As a whole, the drainage should be much better," Burger said.
Burger said improved drainage benefits residential areas in addition to helping agriculture in the county.
County Developer Joel Evans said the county's ditches were originally dug and dredged to transform the area from swampland into usable land.
Ditch maintenance is "continuing the process of keeping Scott County out of flood water," he said.
Junk and other obstructions was removed and the ditch banks are being re-
sloped to reduce sloughing.
Blue Ditch is finally blue again, Evans said, after years of being brown with mud and silt.
* Evans presented a summary of economic development efforts for the first quarter of the year.
"Total grant requests for the first quarter were right at $600,000," Evans said.
Of that, $6,000 has been approved so far, he said.
Evans also reported that the crisis management workshop he attended in Dallas at the end of last month was "one of the most professional workshops I've been to."
* County officials will exchange satellite phone numbers with Mississippi County as requested by Mississippi County Clerk Junior DeLay.
"I think there's going to be more and more counties getting these satellite phones," County Clerk Rita Milam said.