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Volume 32, Issue 1

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Hurricane Floyd, was the most devastating storm of the 1999 season. Virginia and twelve other states were impacted by the storm resulting in 13 major disaster declarations.

Debris-generating events including floods, tornadoes, ice storms, fires, and hurricanes occurred in thirty-nine states and two territories during 1999. Twenty-one weather related disasters generated total costs of approximately $90 billion and 911 deaths during the period August 1992-May 1997. Costs to insurance companies, Federal and State taxpayers, and individuals associated with cleaning up after such events continue to grow at unprecedented rates. Businesses and individuals are faced with the associated costs for lost property and wages due to lengthy debris removal and disposal operations. Debris cleanup costs in four states and two territories exceeded $310 million following Hurricane Georges in 1998.

Current Federal and State debris management planning guidance focuses on those actions necessary to remove and dispose of debris from public rights-of-way and public facilities. Initial emphasis is placed on opening major roads to expedite the movement of medical, police, and fire emergency vehicles. Critical key public facilities are identified and prioritized for both debris clearing and ultimate debris disposal. Federal assistance may be requested if the debris-generating event overwhelms both local and State assets. Again, Federal programs focus on restoration of Public facilities and infrastructure. The business community is expected to handle most of its debris-related problems using private contractors paid for by proceeds received from insurance companies or loans from the Small Business Administration.

What is the Economic Impact?

Recent reports prepared by the Economic Development Administration focused on the community economic impacts following disasters in Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas. The effort was to make an assessment of the economic impacts of the disaster. The findings pointed out that it is critical for business and government to form a partnership to focus on the economy of the affected area as soon as possible after the disaster, and to make recovery decisions in the context of a long-range economic planning process.

Oklahoma Tornadoes and flooding - May 3, 1999: Severe storms, tornadoes, and flooding occurred in 11 Oklahoma counties resulting in over 5,000 structures being totally destroyed and over 3,000 damaged. In the City of Moore retail and service businesses were especially hard hit, with more than 95% of the jobs lost as a result of the tornadoes hitting the business sector.

In the City of Stroud three of its four major private sector employment centers experienced significant losses. More than 500 jobs were lost and an estimated 64 percent of the City's annual combined tax receipts eliminated.

Kansas Tornadoes-May 3, 1999: Sedgwick County, Kansas had 45 businesses that suffered damages. The estimated lost revenue because of the disaster is $3,732,000, or 6 percent of the total annual revenue. A total of 74 jobs were permanently lost with annual payroll losses of $1,338,000. The total taxes lost for the county as a result of the disaster is estimated at $130,000 for property taxes and $28,000 for sales taxes. The total property damage to the 45 businesses exceeded $10 million dollars. The total estimate for recovery expenses will exceed over 12-million dollars. Uninsured losses exceeded $800,000.

Texas Tornadoes-May 4, 1999: Tornadoes devastated a significant portion of the City of DeKalb business community. Over 50 percent of the retail and service businesses were significantly affected. Estimated replacement cost of the damage was estimated at over $5 million dollars. Of the 39 affected businesses seven were totally destroyed and not reopened. Those that have reopened project that it will take from 2 to 24 months to return to normal operations. The total loss of sales revenue is calculated to be over $2 million dollars over the next two years.

The above losses point out that business and local government officials need to work closely to ensure that Debris Management Plans consider business recovery as well as restoration of public services.

Who is Responsible for Debris Cleanup?

Most communities rely on their own Public Works Department to provide the initial workforce to begin clearing debris from major thoroughfares and streets leading to critical municipal facilities such as hospitals, fire and rescue stations, police stations and other key government facilities. However, their capabilities can become overwhelmed by catastrophic debris-generating events resulting in delays in deployment of health and life-saving services and restoration of critical government services. Debris removal and disposal operations may become the responsibility of the local Solid Waste Management Department or handled by debris removal and disposal contractors. This transition can cause significant problems and result in increased costs associated with the overall debris operation if not properly planned and coordinated.

What is a Debris Management Plan?

A Debris Management Plan is a document that addresses critical issues and develops strategies and responsibilities to handle storm-generated debris from curbside to landfill. The clearance, removal and disposal of debris is a difficult, time-consuming, and expensive operation that requires a well defined Debris Management Plan that takes into account realistic debris forecasts and an assessment of current capabilities. Planners must coordinate with the business community to develop a coordinated approach to assigning responsibilities and design an organization structure tailored to respond under a single official designated as the Debris Manager. Other areas of concern include the identification and acquisition of temporary debris storage and reduction sites and the development of pre-event debris removal and disposal contracts. Experience has also shown that arrangements should be made to develop a Debris Contract Administration Team (DCAT) to provide oversight of debris removal and disposal contractors and staff training on debris estimating and contractor monitoring responsibilities.

Who Should Develop the Debris Management Plan?

Either the Department of Public Works or the Department of Solid Waste Management should develop the Debris Management Plan. However, in many instances, local Public Works and/or Solid Waste Management Departments are either understaffed or lack the time to develop plans due to day-to-day operations. A viable option is to seek the services of a qualified debris management consultant to assist in developing debris management plans and pre-positioned contracts. The debris management consultant will be in a position to work with community staff in providing initial guidance necessary to develop a draft plan and the expertise to review and comment on changes or improvements to the plan. Moreover, the debris management consultant will have current knowledge of Federal Public Assistance Programs administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

What Does a Debris Management Plan Contain?

A viable Debris Management Plan should contain the following major sections:
1. Mission: Identify how debris management activities will be facilitated and coordinated. Define the local situations and assumptions used to develop the plan.
2. Organization: Define who has the overall responsibility for managing the debris removal and disposal operations and supporting agencies/staff.
3. Concept of Operations: Detail how the responsible agency/designated individual will manage and coordinate the debris removal and disposal operation. This section should contain guidance on how contracts and cooperative agreements will be coordinated and how debris will be removed and disposed of.
4. Responsibilities: Specify responsibilities for each department involved with debris removal and disposal operations. Typical departments include Public Works, Solid Waste Management, Environmental Quality, Emergency Services, Forestry/Natural Resources, Public Affairs, and Parks and Recreation.
5. Appendices: Detailed procedures are usually listed as Appendices such as maps showing the location of temporary debris storage and reduction sites and approved landfills


Debris removal is an important key to timely recovery of business, the viability of neighborhoods, and the continuity of government. Debris management has traditionally been left to chance, market forces, or ad hoc liaisons created in the chaotic aftermath of the event. It is essential that government debris management planners take a closer look at the business sector and form a partnership that will assess the impact on both business and government and then the overall effect on the public. Minor changes to debris removal and disposal strategies may expedite the opening of businesses and resumption of jobs and generation of tax revenues. Development of a coordinated and comprehensive Debris Management Plan is essential to ensure the timely recovery of business activity, the continued viability of neighborhoods, and the resumption of government services. The lack of a debris management plan had a negative impact on the cleanup efforts in the city of Franklin following Hurricane Floyd. According to Franklin Director of Public Works Jamie Wiest, 'We didn't have a debris management plan. We quickly found out that the debris management is the hardest, most expensive part.' Unfortunately, community planning staffs are either understaffed or too busy with day-to day operations to develop a Plan as indicated by a survey conducted by Langley and McDonald of Virginia Beach that indicated that 47 percent of the respondents lacked a written debris management plan. Therefore, it is recommended that the community consider hiring a Debris Management Consultant to work with local emergency planners. Development of a Debris Management Plan cannot be put off until after the disaster. Communities that choose to leave debris management to chance, market forces, or ad hoc liaisons will cause a slow recovery and create a significant impact on the local economy. Business and government debris management planning must begin now.



Robert C. Swan is a Senior Debris Management Consultant in the Disaster and Mitigation Services Department of Dewberry & Davis (D&D), Fairfax, VA. He served as a technical advisor to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) following Hurricane Andrew, Florida, Hurricane Marilyn, Virgin Islands, Super Typhoon Paka, Guam, Hurricane Georges, Puerto Rico, Hurricane Floyd, and the winter ice and snow storms in New York, Maine, and Nebraska.