‘We’re as well prepared as you can be’: 2011 flood gave Sioux City officials blueprint to follow

Flood 2011

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) — Although no two floods are ever exactly alike, many lessons have been learned in the wake of 2011, to better protect our area in case we ever see a similar event in the near future.

“I think we’re as well prepared as you can be for a repeat of that event,” said Woodbury County Emergency Management Director Gary Brown.

Brown said the fight continues to prevent future flooding.

“There’s been some mitigation measures take place with some of the city infrastructure, with some of the industrial ground and farm ground, there’s been changes made to try to protect some of those from another high-water event,” Brown said.

Brown said the county got a head-start learning how to deal with floods 22 years earlier in the aftermath of United Airlines Flight 232.

“We identified three things: Training, communications, and a place to coordinate disasters from,” Brown said.

That’s why Brown said creating a playbook was the first thing that needed to be done after the 2011 flood.

“We didn’t have any blueprint for this. We had no idea which direction, you know, the water was going to go, or how high it was going to get, so, that’s probably the biggest thing that we left behind was that documentation of exactly what took place and how we did things,” Brown said.

Parks maintenance field supervisor Kelly Bach said key lessons learned from that playbook include understanding the interaction among Sioux City’s four rivers.

“We have the Missouri to contend with, which is a factor from the Big Sioux, the Floyd [River], and Perry Creek. So, there’s four things we always have to consider which one is going to rise first,” said Bach.

And where Sioux City’s weak spots are.

“During ’11, the first place we saw water was actually coming out of the basins, and it started flooding the underpass under Hamilton,” said Bach.

That knowledge led to arguably the biggest structural change in the wake of the 2011 flood.

“We actually raised Hamilton Boulevard, and then we raised the bridges over I-29,” said Dakin Schultz with the Iowa DOT. “It’s been effective so far. We’ve had a couple high water events where it’s been close, but we’ve managed to keep Hamilton Boulevard open in that area.”

Schultz said the I-29 camera system and stronger hydraulic analysis has given them a better idea on how to develop more flood-proof structures moving forward.

“When we look at projects now, we’re looking at a different set of flood levels for that 100 year and 50 year, depending on if it’s a bridge and culvert, and we’re building structures that are better able to withstand those kinds of events,” Schultz said.

Schultz said better coordination with the city since 2011 has also come a long way.

“We work with them on plugging storm sewers when we know the water’s coming up. We also looked at our predetermined diversion routes, or detour routes if they’re needed, so we got that,” said Schultz.

“We’ve improved the communications with the StarCom radio system, with the security institute here, with the emergency operations center, a place to coordinate from,” said Brown.

“We can close off the walkway and then the interpretive center is basically protected again. So, instead of multiple days and contractors and city and multiple agencies from the state and county, we can get it done in a few hours,” said Bach.

Although there’s no way to predict when Sioux City will see another major flood, all three men agree one thing is crystal clear.

“Everybody works well in the tri-state area, and we’re able to talk to each other, we do exercises together, we plan together, so it makes a difference in, in your preparedness level, so you’re on a first-name basis with a lot of people when bad things start to happen,” said Brown.

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