During their council meeting on March 3, the city of Shelby officially adopted an amended ordinance to provide and receive mutual aid during a flooding disaster. Municipalities all around the state of Ohio have expressed interest in providing a similar method of aid for enforcing floodplain regulations during times of flood events, though few have actually adopted legislation to make it official.
Findlay Floodplain Administrator Todd Richard first presented the mutual aid agreement idea approximately three years ago. The objective of the agreement was to create a statewide network of floodplain administrators who can be deployed to communities needing administrative assistance with their Flood Damage Reduction regulations following a disaster.
“When most communities have a big flood event, it can be an overwhelming workload,” Richard explained. “With the National Flood Insurance Plan (NFIP) requirements being more or less universal, someone who is a floodplain administrator should be able to step into another community and help administrate the rules of the NFIP. Some communities may have higher standards than others, but the base regulations are nationwide.”
Should there be the need for assistance following a flood, the local floodplain administrator must submit a “mission statement” to the county EMA director stating how many floodplain administrators are needed, during what time, and for what duration. The county EMA director then forwards the request to the Ohio EMA, who will work from an official roster and reserve floodplain administrators for affected areas. The local floodplain administrator formalizes the request with the mutual aid agreement and arranges fuel, food, and lodging needs for the guest floodplain administrator after they are briefed on procedures and duties.
In Shelby, Floodplain Administrator Joe Gies referred to the 2007 flood in Shelby to emphasize the need for more helping hands in the aftermath of a flooding disaster. At the time, Gies was left with much of the duties of the floodplain administrator when Shelby’s current floodplain administrator was off due to surgery. Since then, Gies has become Richland County’s only certified floodplain administrator, and was awarded the Floodplain Manager of the Year award in 2012.
“I think in case of a disaster, we could use the help,” said Gies. “If you look at the 2007 (flood) situation, we had no one. If we could help bring some knowledgeable people that would help.”
Shelby Mayor Marilyn John added guest floodplain administrators would bring knowledge and experience to a flood event that would not exist by simply pulling volunteer help from other city departments.
“I would be putting on boots and asking Joe to tell me what to do,” she said. “We would pull help from other departments but as far as the knowledge of the floodplain regulations, they’re very specific and all the paperwork, everything is very specific that’s required by the state. That’s stuff that Joe and other floodplain managers would know, so if they come down to help Joe doesn’t have to educate them, and there’s more that they can do.”
This sharing of knowledge is another goal of Richard’s when having floodplain administrators from around the state team up together.
“If I go to someone else’s community I may learn how they do some things that I can learn and bring back to my community, and at the same time I can offer some things we’ve done in Findlay that they might want to incorporate into their floodplain management system,” said Richard. “It’s really a great way to share information right after a flood event. I see that as a big advantage for both the host community and the mutual aid floodplain administrator traveling to the other community.”
Though the adoption of formal mutual aid agreements has progressed slower than Richard might have liked, it hasn’t stopped neighboring Richland County cities from offering help in times of need. Lexington Village Administrator and Floodplain Administrator Aaron Wiegand said the village’s mutual aid agreement functions more as an informal, open dialogue between other communities.
“We don’t have anything formalized but we’re always happy to help,” said Wiegand. “Throughout our municipalities we do have varying degrees of knowledge and specialties, so using those in a collective is always going to produce better outcomes for everybody.”
Richland County Floodplain Administrator Steve Risser echoed Wiegand’s sentiments, as a member of the Ohio Building Officials Association the Ohio EMA director has called him out to respond to disasters before. Risser also supported Shelby and Joe Gies during the 2007 flood.
“We’ve done that for the jurisdictions around Richland County just as being a good partner,” he said. “We don’t have any written agreements in place but mutual aid is about being a good partner and a good neighbor.”
Richard said he has approached approximately a dozen communities in the last year or so about adopting a mutual aid agreement, and hopes Shelby’s adoption of the agreement can fuel some momentum in building a mutual aid network. Mayor John said she believed the agreement was a way of pulling communities across the state together and helping each other out.
“When it comes to the safety and security of the residents of Shelby, Richland County, or the state of Ohio, this is a benefit to that,” she said.