Flooding update–and why pandemic preparedness is paying off

Photo of Cedar Rapids, Iowa

The university has now canceled all classes through June 22nd, and told all “non-essential” employees to stay home. The town is almost impossible to navigate as bridges across the river have closed one by one. And it’s not only in town; interstate 80 and 380 both have closed in places, where they cross over the Iowa and Cedar rivers, making travel in the area near impossible. To make things worse, river levels aren’t even predicted to reach their high until Monday (assuming current rain forecasts hold). Luckily, we have some plans in place…more on that after the jump.

I’ve talked a lot about pandemic planning (mostly in the context of influenza), and taken a lot of flack for contributing to the “hype” of H5N1 or other potential pandemic viruses. However, as I’ve said previously, preparedness is about any disaster, not just flu–and because of our natural disaster, we’re testing our own system right now. Power is out in many areas, people lack access to clean water (and Cedar Rapids is down to one functioning well; it could take weeks to get back up to normal function), trucks carrying supplies are unable to get in/out of the area because of all the bridge closures, and people can’t get into work, so the hospital has the potential to be understaffed. (I couldn’t get over there today and didn’t want to contribute to the traffic congestion anyway, so I stayed at my lab across town). In Cedar Rapids, Mercy Medical Center evacuated over 150 earlier today; the city in total has evacuated 24,000 at this point.

Additionally, my lab might be powered down. (The University power plant has shut down, though much of the campus’ power is supplied by another company). We’re supposed to have emergency back-up, but no one knows just what will happen at this point. Additionally, we’re near the state hygienic laboratory, which handles sample testing for the state. If there are any waterborne disease outbreaks, samples which need to be tested could skyrocket, while at the same time employees there also may not be able to get into work. Therefore, we’re readying for the potential implementation of some pandemic plans–plans that have only been prioritized because of all the media attention over the past several years to avian influenza.

Is it going to be easy or smooth? From communications so far, nope. We can all communicate now via email to check on things that need to be maintained in the lab, but email might go, so we’re back to the old-school phone chain if that happens. The next several days look to be all about playing it by ear and adapting quickly to whatever is thrown at us.

Update 4:40 PM CST: and now to add insult to injury, severe thunderstorms across the region…

Image from http://tinyurl.com/4kyk6y

Join the Conversation


  1. Good Luck Tara – stay safe…

    We had exceptional flooding in the UK last year – which severely tested our preparedness systems.

    A water treatment works supplying hundreds of thousands of people was put out of action – and but for some last ditch action by the military we came a whisker away from losing an electricity sub-station supplying millions. If that had been put out of action the knock-on effects terms of water treatment and healthcare systems would have been unthinkable.

    Unfortunately hindsight seems to be an easier commodity to find than foresight.


  2. I hope the sandbagging was effective. I went down to the library to help them move stuff to the upper levels, then sandbagged for the rest of the day, some at UI, some elsewhere.

  3. Best of luck with it all. I have sympathy here as my own country has its own string of “interesting” natural events albeit (much) smaller!

  4. Chiefley’s right. Hams do a lot of emergency training (ARRL Field Day in June is mostly about emergency preparedness), so if there are a few in the area with medical or epidemiological experience, it might be a good idea to get them in on the whole thing. Same goes for CBers — most REACT types deal primarily in road emergencies, but I’m sure there’s a few who are almost as good as the hams. And GMRS gear — if there’s a store open where you can still get it — is good for short-range communications.

    Not sure how you’d get the word out though… is there an ARC on campus?

  5. The P^5 rule: Prior Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance.

    Good to hear someone has been thinking ahead, covering contingencies and working on redundant systems. A person could work for decades of these and wonder if it is worth it. But when things go south and those plans are needed they pay off big time.

    Glad to hear it worked, even if not perfectly. It will never be perfect. Hang tough, roll with the punches and don’t forget to laugh at the absurdites. No situation you can laugh at will ever completely overwhelm you.

  6. and told all “non-essential” employees to stay home.

    The problem with that is that no one wants to believe that they are non-essential.

  7. I went down to the library to help them move stuff to the upper levels

    Cool. They did a piece about that on NPR.

  8. My heart goes out to you Iowans. The problem with hundred-year flood plans is the hundred-year flood does eventually come.

    Tegumai – you might be surprised how many people recognize their inessentiality during emergencies! For that matter, many employers address the issue directly by telling you right there on your ID if you’re essential personnel or not.

  9. The problem with hundred-year flood plans is the hundred-year flood does eventually come.

    Absolutely. Only thing is there was another 500-flood here–in 1993. People hoped they were off the hook for awhile, but this one is even worse by many measurements.

  10. This makes me grateful for Aberdeen weather, actually. I mean, it’s miserable, but at least it’s a boring miserable. It’s not like the “sandbag the houses and move everything to upper floors of the library!” miserable. The UK has had a couple of years of very bad flooding as well, but somehow it has always missed this corner.

    Having said that, between you and other people I know in Iowa, I get to worry about you all anyway.

    This has exceeded all the 500-year flood plains, hasn’t it?

    Stay safe. Be extra-super careful with your driving. We can’t spare you, whether or not you are classed as “essential personnel”.

  11. Hey, Tara,

    I’ve been thinking of you with the news of the flooding there. Hope all is well with you and the kids. Like your other commenters say, watch your driving. Don’t try fording puddles unless your car is amphibious!

  12. God, that’s even more awful than I’d thought. I hope the planning pays off. I will think cold thoughts for your freezer interiors.

    Gee whiz, this is not going to be good for the nation, either, coming during what’s looking to be the start of a stagflation cycle.

  13. Whatever you think of your essentiality at work, you’re essential here! (On this blog, that is)

    We’ve had a similar situation of several 100-year (not 500-year) floods happening within a decade, which apart from the damage caused, confuses the heck out of (some) people as to what a 100-year event really is. Perhaps they’d be better described to be as an event with a 1/100 (or 1/500) chance of happening in any particular year? Or maybe that’s too confusing?

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