CORONAVIRUS

Johnson County Board of Supervisors chair compares flood, COVID-19 crises, urges kindness

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IOWA CITY — When Rod Sullivan, now in his 16th year as a member of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, was selected board chairman in January, he had no idea the crisis he would face just a few months later.

Yet Sullivan, the longest-serving county supervisor, is uniquely qualified to manage this crisis. Sullivan also was board chairman in 2008 when the county faced another disastrous event, the historic flooding of the Iowa River.

Sullivan talked with The Gazette earlier this month about the differences and similarities between responding to the two crises.

Q: How does the COVID-19 situation compare with 2008 in terms of managing a crisis, and what lessons from 2008 can you apply?

A: Well, we’re fortunate in that we have a great emergency management team. You know, we’ve got a veteran sheriff. We’ve got outstanding folks in our ambulance and medical examiner’s offices. And everybody’s trained up to the nth degree. I feel really good about the people we’re moving forward with.

Q: There are some things with this that it strikes me are very similar to 2008, and some things are completely different. The biggest thing in 2008 was trying to get everybody out of their houses. Now, it’s trying to get everybody in their houses. So, that’s kind of a 180.

A: But a lot of the things are the same. A lot of it is communicating accurate information to the public to the best extent we can. And also trying to get the public to not panic. And so, I think we’re going to work hard on both of those things.

Q: How do you manage not knowing how long this crisis will last?

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A: Well, that’s one of the challenges, obviously. We have a little bit of data from places, China, South Korea, Italy ... they’ve been dealing with this longer than we have. So I suppose there’s some ability to look and see how it’s playing out there and maybe make some guesses based on that. But we don’t really know.

Q: What message would you have for the residents of Johnson County?

A: The first thing I would say is be kind to other people. It sounds maybe like a silly thing, but it’s really important in stressful times to just be kind to each other. Be calm. Understand that truly nobody knows everything here. There are experts who disagree on some things. We’re working on the best information we have and we’re trying to make the best decisions we can. And finally, I would say just try to keep up on things, listen to official sites … I wish I had more that I could offer folks, but honestly, I think that’s a pretty good start.

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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