(EDITOR'S NOTE: One year ago, areas of Lycoming County were devastated by flooding spawned by Tropical Storm Lee. Sun-Gazette reporters and photographers recently revisited the flooded areas to see how far Lee's victims have come since then.)
Tropical Storm Lee last September caused "catastrophic flash flooding and historic water levels," according to John Yingling, director of the Lycoming County Department of Public Safety.
The September flood was an emergency of epic proportions.
John Yingling, director of the Lycoming County Department of Public Safety, holds 14 pages listing the hundreds of emergency calls made to the county 911 Center during September’s flooding. Yingling said individual preparedness is an essential component of dealing with emergencies such as flooding.
That was reflected by the flurry of activity at the county Emergency Operations Center and 911 Call Center.
During the height of the crisis, or from just after midnight Sept. 7 to 5 p.m. Sept. 8, the county 911 Center fielded more than 1,000 calls, Yingling said.
More than 2,400 calls were placed to the county's 10-digit administrative number, Yingling said.
Center operators dispatched emergency responders to 134 water rescues, 22 motor vehicle accidents, 21 fires and 185 other alarms such as downed trees, traffic control and odor investigations.
The 911 center typically has three dispatchers on duty, but during the flood, eight dispatchers worked 12-hour shifts. Even with the additional dispatchers, the situation was stressful for everyone, Yingling said.
"We operated that way from Sept. 7 to Sept. 10," Yingling said. "The 911 center was saturated with phone calls. At one point, all eight call takers were working water rescue."
"There were calls stacked - calls waiting," Yingling said. "We had to prioritize them. Those involving life saving and life rescue were our highest priority. Trees down and blocked roads usually were a low priority."
Yingling said not all calls were related to flood emergencies.
"Life goes on," he said. "Just because there is some extra emergency, the area still has medical emergencies, accidents and fires. Life goes on in unimpacted areas."
Yingling said if he were to give the county a grade for its actions during the flood, it would be a B-plus.
"We were able to successfully accomplish our mission, (but) we had some need for improvement on resource staging and coordination," he said.
Another area needing improvement is preparedness by county residents.
"Individual preparedness - the more we encourage that, the better prepared we'll all be," Yingling said.
The department also encourages community preparedness through participation in the Citizen Corps, a neighbor-helping-neighbor organization.
A year after the flood, the county continues its hazard mitigation efforts through the federally funded flood buy-out program, which provides funding to buy and demolish frequently flooded properties.
The program also provides funding to elevate homes or retrofit them by moving utilities such as electric and heating from the basement to an upper floor less likely to be flooded.
Several rounds of buy-outs associated with the September flooding have been completed, said John Lavelle, county hazard reduction planner. So far, more than 20 properties worth more than $3.5 million have qualified for the buy-out, he said.
Once a property is bought, structures on it are demolished. The property then becomes the property of the municipality in which it is located. No permanent structures may be built on them, but they may be used for recreation, parks and other types of open space.
Homeowners must contribute 3 percent of total buy-out cost, Lavelle said. The county is seeking Community Development Block Grant funding to cover that homeowner cost, he said.
Lavelle said the county's Flood Ready website was well-used during the emergency. The site, which provides real time stream gauge readings on the five county watersheds and the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, may be accessed on the county website at www.lyco.org.
The site received more than 83,000 hits during the peak of the flooding before it crashed in the early hours of Sept. 8, Lavelle said.
According to Yingling, the county will continue to work to improve communications and techniques for dealing with flooding.
"We get smarter with each incident," he said. "Things change with the availability of people, the availability of equipment and technology. Those are things we are always reviewing."