Seven months post-derecho, City of Cedar Rapids hires firm to assess disaster response

Aftermath of the Aug. 10 derecho in Cedar Rapids. — courtesy of Steve Shriver

The City of Cedar Rapids has hired a disaster and change management consulting firm to develop an after-action report assessing the city’s response to the August 2020 derecho.

Tennessee-based Atchison Consulting Service will be paid $25,000 through a contract with the city and will help identify strengths and areas of improvement through data collection, analysis and engagement efforts. The firm will conduct research and have conversations with city staff, officials, partner organizations and other stakeholders, according to a news release.

City officials will then use the data to create a road map and “improve core capabilities citywide,” the release said.

“I am honored that the city selected our team to support this effort,” said Cathleen Atchison, owner of Atchison Consulting Service. “Born and raised in Iowa, calling Cedar Rapids home for many years, we are highly committed to providing the city of Cedar Rapids with a process and service that will highlight strengths, identify barriers and challenges, and create a road map of solution alternatives that will increase capabilities across city agencies and partnering stakeholders. By understanding these components based on a no-notice event; preparedness, response, and recovery efforts will be enhanced to support the needs of the community and citizens for future all-hazard disasters.”

Cedar Rapids Fire Chief Greg Smith said in the release that an after-action review “is an important exercise to identify opportunities for continuous improvement.”

All 75 square miles of Cedar Rapids were impacted, city officials said days after the devastating storm. There was an immediate need for food, shelter and tree removal, and many residents were without power and internet for weeks. There were challenges of communicating information to residents due to the power and internet outages, city officials said.

The city is conducting the after-action report seven months after the powerful storm. The World Health Organization recommends that after-action reviews be conducted within three months but ideally “as soon as possible after an event/outbreak is declared.” The recommendation was published in a 2018 report titled “Guidance for After Action Review.”

Officials told the Gazette last month that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has diverted focus from the derecho review, and it was a challenge to find the best agency to conduct it.

The derecho after-action report will look at four main questions: what was done well, what the city was not prepared for, what the city learned/is still learning and what are new opportunities for growth. The consulting firm will also focus on various core capabilities within those four questions, including:

• Command: communication and coordination

• Supply chain management: resources, security and logistics

• Information sharing

• Multi-agency coordination: resource requests, tracking and mutual aid agreements

• Public information

• Local emergency operation center activations

• Situation awareness of jurisdictional need and recovery

The review is anticipated to take 70 days, and the report is expected to be available mid-summer.

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