State disaster committee hears input on spring flooding

Sunday, July 3, 2011
Members of the Missouri House of Representatives' Interim Committee on Disaster Recovery take pictures of the spillway at the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway on Thursday. Here, they see a home that was swept about 1,000 feet from its foundation, as well as how the waters changed the land. (Michelle Felter, Standard-Democrat)

SIKESTON, Mo. -- Members of the Missouri House of Representatives' Interim Committee on Disaster Recovery listened for more than four hours Thursday as members of the public voiced their opinions on how the state can aid them in recovering from recent flooding.

"What we've learned today is there needs to be better communication at all levels -- between federal, state and local," said Rep. Shane Schoeller, R-Willard, committee chairman. "They also need to act quickly before and after a disaster, and we need road maps of how to proceed after a disaster occurs."

A crowd of about 70 state, city and county officials along with community residents attended the meeting at the Clinton Building in Sikeston.

State Rep. Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston, who was appointed to serve on the committee, hosted the hearing as part of the group's continuing efforts to research how the state can best aid in the immediate recovery process.

Reps. Steve Hodges, D-East Prairie, and Terry Swinger, D-Caruthersville, are also members of the interim committee.

Schoeller said cost is another issue, adding the goal is always to use taxpayers' dollars wisely.

Hodges said the hearings are helping the committee get some ideas, directives and suggestions.

Those providing public comment included Drew Juden, chief of the Sikeston Department of Public Safety; Dr. Gene Stevens, crop production specialist for the Delta Research Center in Portageville, Mo.; Morehouse, Mo., Mayor Pete Leija; Mississippi County Sheriff Keith Moore; members of the Mini Farms Homeowners Association; Cheryl White, CEO of SEMO Health Network; Mississippi County farmer Lester Goodin; and Bob Summers and Stan Schulz of Schulz and Summers Engineering.

Brandom said Juden's points really stuck with her Thursday.

"I like the idea of setting up a system like he has. He's really learned how to simplify it," Brandom said, referring to the Multi-Agency Communication Center, Juden helped set up in Sikeston during the flooding.

A slideshow of local disasters ranging from the 2006 tornado in Caruthersville to the 2009 ice storm to the recent flooding played as Juden spoke to the Committee. Through the MACC, all resources were available in one center, he said.

However, the Juden said, said a better way to respond to future disasters is still needed. He said because federal and Homeland Security funds are basically depleted, the need for a funding mechanism for everyone who responds in a natural disaster is higher now more than ever.

"Of all the disasters, we've never had an issue with requesting mutual aid, but with this one, we would get the question: 'Who is going to pay overtime?'" Juden said.

The best equipment can be purchased to respond in disasters, but the state has to have the people to operate the equipment, he said.

The committee will release an initial report of its findings to the legislature by July 31 to determine if there is proper cause to call a special session to address the problems identified. The committee will then continue through Dec. 31 identifying long-term recovery strategies and how the state can be better prepared for future natural disasters.

Those who were unable to attend the committee hearing can call Brandom's toll-free number at 1-866-834-9219 or email to submit testimony on issues that should be studied.

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