Guest Columnist

Are we prepared if a disaster strikes?

The Cedar River flows past May’s Island in downtown Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017. The river crested at 21.95 ft, which is major flood stage, in Cedar Rapids on Sept. 27, 2016. In 2016, HESCO barriers were erected on the riverfront walkway to protect downtown from flooding. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
The Cedar River flows past May’s Island in downtown Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017. The river crested at 21.95 ft, which is major flood stage, in Cedar Rapids on Sept. 27, 2016. In 2016, HESCO barriers were erected on the riverfront walkway to protect downtown from flooding. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

As we approach the 10 year anniversary of the 2008 flood, we reflect on what we have learned about disaster preparedness and emergency response over the past decade.

The 2008 event has not been our only training ground — over the past few years, there have been a number of straight-line wind, tornado, and flash flood events in Linn County communities that have tested our resiliency. We have learned there are critical components to effective disaster response.

We know that many of our community’s nonprofit organizations serve as much-needed immediate responders. Providing them with access to the funding and support they need to stay operational is essential. These nonprofits ensure our neighbors, and especially vulnerable populations, are clothed, sheltered and fed when the unthinkable happens.

We have learned that it is crucial for all communities in the county have a plan, be connected, and be aware of coordinated efforts. In Linn County, Linn Area Partners in Disaster (LAP-AID), a coalition of organizations that seeks to increase resilience and minimize the impact of emergencies and disasters, facilitates preparedness and response.

Nonprofit organizations and disaster networks are also significant during small-scale disasters — low attention events that have a substantial impact on individuals and businesses but are not declared disasters and therefore do not receive government aid.

For example, the 2014 flash flood in Cedar Rapids did not qualify for government recovery funds but people were still in need of assistance. Funders and area nonprofits collaborated to address residents’ needs.

Similarly, the near-flood of 2016 proved that even when a large-scale disaster is avoided, the community may still need support to return to normal. Cedar Rapids businesses in the flood zone suffered damage and/or loss of business income, and many needed assistance in order to get up and running again. Private philanthropy worked with the business community to meet this need.

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When disaster strikes, communities need to act fast. We know it is essential for emergency services and community resources to be able to address the needs of citizens immediately following a disaster, but what is less known is that the ability to raise funds to recover financially is also time sensitive. Research by the Center for Disaster Philanthropy demonstrates that most charitable donations following a disaster are made within the first few days. Communities that have developed a fundraising plan in advance of a disaster have an advantage over those that have not.

As we celebrate 10 years post-flood, it’s essential to continue to build on what we have learned about how to best respond to and recover from disaster events. In looking forward, I hope we continue to develop active networks throughout Linn County to grow our collective capacity to respond to future disasters.

• Karla Twedt-Ball is senior vice president for programs and community investment at the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation and has led disaster preparedness initiatives at the foundation since the 2008 flood.

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