Montana emergency coordination center tackles flood response, recovery

Damage Assessment Training
State Emergency Coordination Center
Posted at 8:01 PM, Jun 22, 2022

HELENA — Since severe flooding began across Montana early last week, leaders have been coordinating resources from the State Emergency Coordination Center at Fort Harrison, outside Helena.

State Disaster and Emergency Services administrator Delila Bruno said they first began to prepare for a flooding response on Sunday, June 12, when they got reports of heavy rainfall in southeastern and south-central Montana.

“We have an on-call staff always in touch with communities, always readily available if people need to outreach to our office – we’re here for them,” she said.

Bruno said they scaled up their operations quickly in the first days, preparing to handle requests for additional resources. Some of their work included directing incident management teams from across the state to the areas where they were needed. More recently, they’ve been formulating plans as Montana begins to shift from response to recovery.

“We’re just standing by to make sure whatever unmet needs are out there, we’ve got that on our radar,” said Bruno.

Leaders said many agencies across the state have contributed to the response, from county and local responders to the Montana National Guard. Montana has also received significant support from outside the state. Bruno said they’ve had 48 federal employees on the ground, mostly from FEMA. In addition, they’re hosting staff from other states – many coordinated through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which allows states to send personnel and resources working governor-to-governor.

“We have folks here that are helping from Florida, from South Carolina, from Wyoming, California, Oregon – and other states if we need to,” said Bruno. “We welcome them in and are pleased to have their help.”

Many of those helping out are specialists in FEMA’s programs that provide financial assistance after a disaster.

“We’ve got some incredible expertise that is on the ground, that has been battle-tested through hurricanes, through tornadoes, through all kinds of disasters – we’ve got those folks embedded with our SECC and here to serve the citizens of Montana however we can,” Bruno said.

State Emergency Coordination Center

The public assistance program provides grants to restore public infrastructure damaged by a disaster, including roads, bridges and water systems. Bruno said Park, Stillwater and Carbon Counties are already eligible for that assistance because of the federal disaster declaration.

“We have seen a very rapid response from FEMA on this, and we’re pleased with that,” she said. “Processes that would have normally taken, honestly, a couple of months to get this declaration through – with incredible support from our governor’s team and our congressional delegation and our FEMA partners, they pushed that through in just a matter of a few days.”

The other large assistance program, individual assistance, would make financial support available to individual homeowners. Bruno said the state is working to get approval for that added to the declaration.

On Wednesday, leaders held a coordination session for five teams that will be going out to the areas affected by the flooding to do damage assessments. That information will help the state make the case to the federal government to get individual assistance approved.

Jake Ganieany, who manages the coordination center, says their goal is to get everyone on the same page – and to limit the number of times they have to visit each affected property owner.

“Everyone’s already dealing with a really bad day,” he said. “We don’t want to put more stress on them.”

Starting Thursday, the teams will spread out in Park, Stillwater and Carbon Counties and begin talking to affected residents. DES is also encouraging property owners who’ve experienced flooding damage to fill out an online form documenting it.

Bruno praised everyone who’s been involved in the flood response.

“A big thank you to the communities,” she said. “I can’t say enough about how well organized this response was, how professional they’ve been in dealing with a lot of chaos.”