Government Response to Flood Recovery - Jan 30, 2024

Representatives from the Vermont National Guard showed a slide show with a map of July rainfall in the State clearly showing the devastation. It was noted that municipalities made some changes following Tropical Storm Irene which held up during this event. The Guard did not have to respond as much as might have been anticipated because of this. They explained how the ‘chain of command’ works with Department of Public Safety and Vermont Emergency Management (VEM). The 15th Civil Support Team responded with 54 pieces of equipment.

The Committee talked about some special equipment that VTRANS needed. The Guard members noted that they have a shared equipment agreement with other National Guards in the region so if they don't have a particular piece of equipment they can make arrangements to get it. During the flooding event, VEM asked for Guard assistance. They sent soldiers into specified communities to fill in the gaps. Several guardsmen are trained to ask questions related to needs and to report back to VEM. However, there was some breakdown of communications which the Guard has already discussed between VEM and Municipalities – this needs to be reviewed and addressed.

The Guard was also called out to assist VT HAZMAT for the duration of the event. There was a Joint Operations Center established at the White River Junction Armed Forces Reserve Center (the VEM headquarters had to be evacuated because it was in the flood zone).

Senator White asked about a "conspiracy theory" that people were being housed in abandoned rest area. Apparently FEMA had leased the property from the state in order to store temporary modular housing. No one was living there and nothing else was being stored there.

Chairwoman Hardy asked for recommendations on how to improve response. The main response was communication; the sooner lines of communication can be established they can identify what is needed and it makes a world of difference.

Hardy noted that there were lots of comments about how great the Agency of Transportation (AOT) was during the crisis. Jayna Morse (Director of Finance & Administration, Agency of Transportation) served as deputy incident commander. Their structure is very similar to Guard. They are "very flexible" and able to set up what is needed depending on the type of emergency. The primary goal is public safety when municipalities need assistance from VTRANS. They do training year round for various scenarios. Morse also stressed the important of communications. Sometimes municipalities were not able to be contacted which created concerns.

There were over $150M federally recognized damages, including highways, rails, rail trails, state offices in Berlin, and other impacts. VTRANS itself lost a building in Berlin on Route 302. The building has flooded at that location before so the Agency is searching for a better location to get out of the flood plain. 

Hardy asked about bridges. VTRANS is working with municipalities to assess condition of the states bridges. She would like to have VTRANS back as they hear from other agencies who were involved in response and recovery.

Senator Clarkson asked what VTRANS' role is when a municipality does NOT ask for assistance. Morse informed her that VTRANS cannot do anything at that point if the town can not or will not ask for assistance. VEM reached out to every town to ask if they need help. If they say ‘no’ there is not much VTRANS can do except to be there if the Town changes its mind. 




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