Disaster Aftermath Preparedness

By Rona Johnson
The month's issue of Biomass Magazine features an interesting look at what happens to the debris left behind after a disaster. Although most communities, counties and states have disaster preparedness programs, one wonders if there is a need to also prepare for the aftermath.

After witnessing the flood of 1997 in Grand Forks, N.D., and East Grand Forks, Minn., when the Red River overflowed its banks and forced 90 percent of Grand Forks' 40,000 residents to abandon their homes and businesses, I can understand the need for a plan to deal with disaster debris. I believe the communities were prepared for flooding-at least for the predicted 49-foot crest-as there were dikes built to protect the city. It was the 54-foot crest that caught everyone off guard. The fact that there were no casualties is a testament to everyone involved in the flood-fighting efforts and their disaster preparedness training.

When the water receded and people were allowed to go back to their waterlogged homes, I remember driving down streets lined with people's flood-damaged belongings. I'm not sure what happened to that stuff, but I'm pretty sure that the bulk of it wasn't recycled. The flood caused an estimated $2 billion in damage to the two communities, and more than 60,000 tons of debris were removed.

After reading Ron Kotrba's feature titled "Dealing with Disaster Debris" on page 24, it's clear there are some sticky issues involved in the cleanup process. First and foremost, that debris belongs to someone, whether it's homeowners, businesses or communities. So, who should collect any money made from it? How much can a company afford to pay for the debris and still come out ahead after spending the time and money to remove and transport it? Also, any time you have government agencies involved, it's bound to get complicated.

I was shocked to learn that most disaster debris is burned or ends up rotting in landfills. It seems like such a shame when there are so many resourceful people finding ways to recycle that waste. For more information about these people and their ideas for managing disaster debris, check out Kotrba's feature.

Rona Johnson
Features Editor