Former State Fire Chief Joe Lowe knows a thing or two about responding to fires, floods, and other major emergencies. He also happens to be running for Governor. That's why his critique of the state's apparent lack of readiness and response to the big West River October blizzard is no mere Monday-morning quarterbacking; it's informed and newsworthy policy critique. Here's Lowe's commentary:
I am a 36-year veteran of the fire service and served this state as your Division Director/Fire Chief for Wildland Fire Suppression. In addition, I was the Incident Commander (person in charge) for one of the 33 national teams that respond to incidents of national significance. I was appalled at the lack of leadership displayed and the state response to Western South Dakota during winter storm Atlas.
The way incident resources are ordered on all hazard incidents is first through the County Emergency Centers. Requests for snow plows would be an example of what may be ordered. When the County Emergency Centers become overloaded then the State of South Dakota Emergency Center jumps in and helps fill resource request for the already overloaded county emergency operations centers. During Winter Storm Atlas the State of South Dakota Emergency Operations Center never opened. Yet we had 14 counties and two reservations that received disaster declaration. If this storm did not trigger the state center to open, then how bad does it have get before the center is opened? So from my perspective the state left us alone in Western South Dakota.
From the leadership standpoint, I want to address the issue of incident preparedness. With a storm like this bearing down on our state, as Governor, I would have called my cabinet together and asked if we were prepared for such a storm. For instance, I would have asked the Department of Transportation if we had enough snow plows in Western South Dakota or do we need to move some from the Eastern part of the state to meet the storm demands. To the best of my knowledge this did not happen. There were no such meetings. Finally Monday morning some things slowly started to happening. This is a reactionary response not the proactive one I am used too.
As for the local efforts, all of those agencies and responders gave it their all. They worked countless hours for you, the people who were without power and needed help. They are to be commended. As for our state response, the administration fumbled the ball. We deserve better in our time of need.
Former Division Director Director/Fire Chief for the State of South Dakota.
For comparison here are some instances when the Daugaard Administration has activated a state Emergency Operations Center to coordinate response during, not after, an event:
- May 25, 2011: Missouri River flood
- April 9, 2013: statewide snow and ice storm
- August 2013: Sturgis motorcycle rally
There may be other instances of EOC activation, but the October 2013 blizzard taxed local emergency response resources at least as much as these three diverse events. What criteria warranted state coordination for those three emergencies but not for the "worst storm for 150 years"?