EDITORIAL: As storms strengthen, increase local planning
For the second time in a little over a month, rainstorms and accompanying flash flooding over the Labor Day weekend left York County and surrounding areas awash in damage, debris and detour signs as dozens of roads were either washed out or torn up.
The storms, packing a punch and coming with little warning, hit just as many in our area were finally recovering from all-but-Biblical rains in late July that left rivers over-spilling their banks, homes and businesses flooded, roads impassable and a number of residents in need of rescue or evacuation.
As we lamented in this space a month ago, these weather systems aren’t going away — not with a warming planet perfecting conditions for more frequent, more intense storms. And with York County and the region already prone to flooding, it’s time to do more than wring out after each storm and wring our hands.
Gov. Tom Wolf put it perfectly while touring storm-ravaged parts of York County last week: “We have to figure out what we can do in this new environment if this is going to be what we face in the future so these things don't have the devastating impact they have.”
The county’s new South Central Task Force emergency alert system is a step in the right direction, but more such tools are needed to assist residents both before and after devastating storms strike. A few suggestions:
Designated Alternate Routes: Some roads remain closed following the recent storm, and a flood warning over the weekend and Hurricane Florence’s still-unknown plans bring the threat of additional closings. At least for roads parallel to or crossing flood-prone rivers and tributaries, designated alternate driving routes should be established and marked.
Rescue Operations: Hats off to the emergency responders who have been life-savers — literally — this summer. Let’s make sure they have all the support and planning they need. Are there ways to join forces and improve efficiency, response times and safety protocols? It is unlikely responders haven’t learned a thing or two responding to this summer’s deluges; a countywide post-mortem to share and review new ideas and best practices is in order.
Damage Assistance: The county has created an online Individual Damage Reporting Form. This is a useful tool as far as it goes. But it — or a similar service — needs to go farther. Reports are used to help prioritize emergency responses — and that’s a vital service. But online services for requesting emergency or even non-emergency aid would be equally helpful, as would a resource for financial assistance.
Temporary Shelters: Do you know where you’d go if your home was suddenly flooded? Grandma’s? What if her home was flooded, too? The county’s helpful list of emergency resources could benefit from inclusion of designated shelters.
Crisis Cleanup Services: Progress has already been made on this front. The county is working with the PA211 service to connect residents with contractors and workers who can help with cleanup and related issues. Call 2-1-1 to access the service.
Early Warning Systems: Usually, there is adequate warning about storm systems. Prior to the Labor Day weekend storm, there was not. Whether this was because the newer, stronger storms form more quickly, or simply an anomaly in reporting, the answer must be found, and the issue addressed.
Development: Building in flood-prone areas must continue to be regulated and, when necessary, restricted to mitigate potential damage.
Planning: The county is to be commended for having in place a thorough Hazard Mitigation Plan. But it has been five years since its last update. At the very least, sections on flooding and storm response should be reviewed and, where appropriate, revised.
Much has been accomplished but much more needs to be done. Fortunately, there is plenty of foundation to build on. County leaders and emergency responders have been neither ignorant of nor resistant to necessary steps.
As warming weather patterns continue to create new challenges, local leaders must be aggressive in positioning themselves to protect the property, investments and, most importantly, lives of those who call York County home.