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McLean County EMA Faces Pandemic, Flood Response With Reduced Staff

Cathy Beck pointing at computerized map
Eric Stock
Cathy Beck, acting director of the McLean County Emergency Management Agency, said she has relied on volunteers and outside agencies to help manage the county's pandemic and flood responses.

First there was the coronavirus pandemic. Then came flooding.

The McLean County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) has had to manage two prolonged emergencies over the last year with one staff person.

Assistant director Cathy Beck took over as acting EMA director last October when Bob Clark took medical leave. Beck said she has relied on about 30 volunteers to help with storm damage assessments and various other tasks, including response vehicle repairs and two-way radio maintenance. But Beck acknowledged there have been a lot of long days.

“It’s exhausting, but it’s also rewarding seeing the outside. This is what we’ve been through and we’ve survived all this. Our plans are better,” Beck said.

Beck said IT volunteers helped create the database the county used to compile storm damage reports used to apply for state and federal disaster relief, following the flooding that dumped about 10 inches of rain in parts of McLean County June 25-27.

As the lead agency in managing the county's pandemic response, Beck said her office has been responsible for distributing PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and other supplies to area hospitals, doctor's offices and emergency responders and assist with the administration of the McLean County Health Department's COVID vaccination clinics, with help from the Illinois National Guard.

Beck said she could use more volunteers for the county’s ground search and rescue team, adding while she would take the additional paid help, she thinks building in additional surge capacity for the office wouldn’t be practical.

“When there’s not things going on, we are doing paperwork and (handling) phone calls. Just having another person doing that doesn’t seem like a wise use of resources,” said Beck, adding the county EMA also takes part in a county disaster council that includes representatives from other emergency response agencies.

“We have support when we ask for it,” she said, noting the county plans to hire a temporary EMA staffer soon because of Clark’s absence.

Beck said the full-time response to the pandemic over the 1 1/2 years has reduced or delayed other EMA functions, including community outreach and incident management training.

Flood damage underreported

McLean County reported flood waters damaged more than 2,000 homes and businesses last month, but Beck said the storm's toll was much greater. she noted a lot of flood damage was never reported.

“We might have addresses 101, 103, 111 that all reported damage and when we drove down that street, 105, 107, 109 all had damage. Those places didn’t report it, but those places still had damage,” she said.

The county reported close to 200 properties had major damage and nearly a dozen properties were destroyed. The county qualified for emergency loans for residents and business owners through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). It did not have enough damage to quality for a disaster declaration through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that would have made the county eligible for federal relief.

Beck said the loan application process should be fairly easy for residents and business owners to navigate. The SBA has three staffers on hand at the disaster loan outreach center in Bloomington to help process applications, she said. The SBA also has an online application and a toll-free number to call for help (800-658-2955)

Beck expects the county will field complaints from some people who may have expected more help with the cost of damages.

“We sometimes are on the receiving end of those (complaints),” Beck said. "Those don’t fall under our jurisdiction so I can't answer any questions about those."

Some Bloomington residents have complained to city hall about the combined water and sewer lines in older neighborhoods that caused sewage backup in their homes following the storms.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.