This is a story you won't want to miss. Learn how an unexpected flood taught Albany, Georgia a lot about FEMA and being prepared for natural disasters.
Gary Glascock feels confident now that he and his team are prepared for a natural disaster, but it hasn't always been that way. After the "Great Flood of 2016" ravaged Albany, Louisiana in August of that year, he's had to learn a lot of hard truths, as hindsight forces us to do. As Building/Planning Manager of the town, among other job responsibilities, he now has a story that every town should hear.
The disaster was a flash flood of epic proportions, one Gary nor the area saw coming. And since his office wasn't declared within a flood zone, there was no flood insurance to fall back on when the unexpected overland flood hit due to nearby rising rivers.
After the flood, Gary and his team arrived at their office days later to find over five feet of water had moved in. Documents, maps, computers, hard drives and more were now under water, and with them went at least 15 years of critical infrastructure data, as well as the information history of the department to date. "We lost everything," says Gary. "All we had was a bunch of wet equipment."
It took days to get back up and running to any degree, and not just professionally. Many department employees, including Gary, were also dealing with flooded homes and big personal losses on top of professional ones. The crisis devastated the entire town, making the day-to-day feel like an uphill battle. Despite the difficulty felt by everyone, the team pitched in to reassemble an office space, setting up a couple blocks away in a new building. They brought in folding tables and personal computer equipment that hadn't been submerged so they could get to work helping their community.
When the flood was officially declared a disaster, it was then time to start the cleanup and rebuilding process, putting Gary in touch with FEMA for the first time.
That's where a big issue became evident.
Prior to the flood, the team had relied heavily on paper documentation and Excel spreadsheets to keep track of their operations, as well as scans stored on computers. Since the overwhelming majority of this had been lost, producing all the documentation FEMA needed to move their projects along in a timely manner was now much more than just a challenging endeavor.
The flood forced them to look at the way they had been operating, and it was clear they needed a new approach in case a disaster like this ever happened again. They needed a way to ensure they would never lose resources moving forward, realizing that their previous system was too vulnerable to go back to. Luckily, this outlook was a win for FEMA as well. For FEMA, going the route of new software for the department was a "least-cost alternative", as opposed to the time and money it would take for the town’s IT crew to reestablish what they had been using before.
After accepting the fact that many records would simply never be regained, it was time to look for cloud-based software that could reliably get the department back on track. Upon investigating, Gary learned that the local school district used Dude Solutions software to manage its maintenance operations and spoke highly of it. He reached out to The Dude to see what offerings were available for the government market.
After speaking with other companies that were either too expensive or didn't have the software they were looking for, they found a solution in Dude. They knew they would need a lot of help getting started and got it through Dude's implementation team. Gary and his department have been in the implementation process, set to finish in March of 2018, for a couple months and report that it's going better than expected.
"We should have done it sooner," Gary says. "If I knew then what I know now, I would have pushed them years ago to do it." He says he's confident that if another flood occurred, he and his team would have the tools to submit documentation and get help from sources like FEMA in half the time. For him, that means down from nine months to four and a half.
Gary says the team is much more hopeful and upbeat now, and he encourages others still relying on paper systems and spreadsheets to take heed before they find themselves in a similar situation. He recommends finding the right software to better protect your team and your community should the unexpected happen to you. He also raises the point that having a traceable history is necessary as senior department members retire.
"The hardest part is going from the old ways to the new ways. Sometimes people feel it's more work to go to the new way...but the outcome later down the road for someone else when I'm gone...they won't have to call me to know what happened five years ago. It's all documented."
Though Gary's story has a happy ending, it serves as a reminder for other governments to get and stay prepared. To learn more about successful crisis management, check out our guide on optimizing your crisis plan.