Press "Enter" to skip to content

Guest Column: State Fumbled Response to October Blizzard

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.

Joe Lowe
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:

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"?


  1. interested party 2013.12.19

    Well, a partisan PUC, an entrenched public 'safety' industry, Pierre's dependence on GOP cash, and utilities salivating over yet another windfall would all be part of an answer to your question, Cory.

    Joe will need big yellow equipment just to shovel the offal from the Capitol.

  2. Jerry 2013.12.19

    Denny and his gang were too busy figuring more ways to screw the working poor out of Medicaid Expansion while counting their ill gotten gains from Chinese immigrants. It is clear that the only time this governor is willing to do anything is just for wealthy benefactors on the river or that get the millions from the Rally, other than that, we are all just poor. You can notice this especially so, in West River. Did you see how the governor was so quick to want to open Mt. Rushmore when NOem shut it down? Kind of shows the priority of this bunch, tourists yes!, ranchers, forgetaboutit, you just don't count unless it is for your vote.

    Joe Lowe is correct, South Dakota deserves much better and we will never achieve that without getting rid of the current governor. After that, a full house cleaning of the rest of the legislators that turn a blind eye to the needs of our people.

  3. Les 2013.12.19

    If there was a windfall experienced after Atlas Lar, I'd like to hear specifics.

  4. interested party 2013.12.19

    What part of wind, fall, and patronage escapes you, Les?

  5. Les 2013.12.19

    Show me a rural power utility with this notional capital rotation you speak of Lar. I can't speak to BHP or Excel Energy.

  6. Les 2013.12.19

    Good grief Lar, this is the internet...Two Month Old News! Since when is a loan the same as a gift? Not that some don't borrow to produce capital rotation, most don't. Your link is no different than a student loan guarantee.

  7. Les 2013.12.19

    Those loan apps were in months before Atlas. Keep diggin.

  8. interested party 2013.12.19

    This Jan. 29, 2010 photo provided by the South Dakota Rural Electric Association shows Moreau-Grand Electric Cooperative crew digging a 4-mile long trench in the snow north of South Dakota's Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe reservation to get to two broken wires following power and water outages caused by an ice storm.

  9. Les 2013.12.19

    At least you're on topic Lar, that was a true failure of our state response when you see a machine of that size doing a job the Nat Guard should have been there to do.

  10. interested party 2013.12.19

    You're welcome, Les: remind us where the Guard has been.

  11. Rorschach 2013.12.19

    When Governor Daugaard did a belated flyover of the blizzard damage it reminded me of GW Bush flying over the Hurricane Katrina damage. Bush sent Brownie, and we know how that turned out. But did Daugaard send anyone at all? I'm sorry, but a flyover doesn't cut it for leadership during a disaster.

Comments are closed.