CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County Risk Manager Steve Estenson, who was appointed Sept. 23 as incident commander for the impending flood in Cedar Rapids, reflects on the days that followed.
Q: As the county’s appointed incident commander, what was your role in the recent flood event?
A: As incident commander, I was tasked with coordinating the efforts to prepare for the event. I was very in tune with the flood predictions as they were evolving and used that and flood predicting models to see what Linn County functions and buildings might be affected. The role of incident commander is intended to have a single person that is able to make quick, appropriate decisions. Typically, the Board of Supervisors makes decisions concerning Linn County business and functions, but in this case, I was able to make those decisions on behalf of the board.
Q: In the days that led up to the Cedar River’s crest, what were some of the most crucial actions taken by the county to prepare?
A: Having been heavily involved in the flood of 2008, I was aware of what the potential was for each county operation and facility. The most crucial actions were to protect the public, our employees and our infrastructure. There are a number of actions that took place from road and park closures, to the Linn County Jail being evacuated and multiple Linn County properties being prepared for the worst and closed to the public.
Q: How would you describe Sept. 27, when the Cedar River crested at about 22 feet?
A: By Monday, Sept. 26, we were prepared for the water to crest anywhere up to the 28-foot mark with how we prepared our buildings and property. At that point, it was a waiting game, monitoring the river projection levels and keeping an eye on our buildings. As the river crested on Sept. 27, we were already in motion planning our return to our buildings and continuing business as usual.
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Q: What have you and others with the county been up to since the river crested?
A: Most of our departments and functions have return to life as it was before the flood. Departments still working on the recovery include Finance and Budget, Facilities, Conservation, Secondary Roads and the Sheriff’s Office. My activity has been focused on identifying damages, gathering costs and expenses related to the event, meeting and touring sites with insurance adjusters and informing personnel from the (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the state of Iowa of all of our activities and damages from before, during and after the event.
Q: Looking back, how would you describe the countywide response to the 2016 flood?
A: I’ve described this event to Linn County department heads and elected officials as a great drill. We got to see all of our departments and staff pull together to prepare for the worst, making educated decisions in a quick manner and it paid off. This event taught us what we’re capable of with preparation, leadership, teamwork and effective communication. Not only did we benefit from our internal communication and leadership within the county, we leaned on other communities and community leaders to assist us and weren’t too proud to ask for help and resources when we needed it most.