Flood emergency action, evacuation plans to be created
Editor’s note: the following article and the accompanying photograph were shared by those working on the Big Five Levee System project.
Imagine your typical day of getting ready to head to work, driving along the beautiful River Road next to the Mighty Mississippi River. It’s a bit cloudy, but rain isn’t forecast in the area for another couple of hours.
What you don’t realize is that farther upstream, heavy rain has been falling on already saturated soils, unable to absorb any more water due to the heavy snowpack from the previous winter.
With nowhere to go, the water has been running off into the streams and rivers, and now the floodwave is heading down the Mississippi.
This scenario has become all too familiar in Alexander and Union counties in Southern Illinois, with multiple record floods occurring in recent years that have tested the strength of the Big Five Levee System.
This levee system is critical, not only to the safety of those who live and work in the communities behind these levees, but also to those who depend on access to Route 3 and the Cape Girardeau bridge in Southern Illinois.
With that as the reality, the need for written emergency action and evacuation plans was identified.
The Big Five Levee System is comprised of Preston, Clear Creek, East Cape Girardeau and North Alexander levee segments, which include 54 miles of levee maintained by local levee districts.
Authorized to reduce the risk of flooding from the Mississippi River and tributaries, it is estimated that the system prevented more than $241 million in flood damages in 2019.
In addition to protecting more than 40,000 acres of farmland, the system also protects more than 1,700 people, including approximately 300 students in Shawnee School District No. 84.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers St. Louis District, in partnership with several federal, state and local partners, will be contributing to this interagency project under the Silver Jackets program.
The Silver Jackets program brings together agencies to leverage each agency’s contributions in projects that reduce flood risk and natural disasters by applying their shared knowledge, and enhancing response and recovery efforts when such events do occur.
With hundreds of projects proposed to the Silver Jackets each year, the students’ of Shawnee School District involvement in building awareness of flood risk and the importance these levees have in the community did not go unnoticed.
“What makes this interagency flood risk management project unique is that there is an interest by all partners to have a focus on a flood-prone school system with a nationally recognized student body with respect to levee awareness and student participation,” said Hal Graef, project manager for the Corps of Engineers.
“These planning efforts will jointly assist local and state emergency and water management officials, along with school district personnel and students, and will also raise heightened community awareness, potentially reducing consequences from flooding.”
Due to the continually increasing flooding events over the years, the need for risk-messaging and an emergency/evacuation plans has become much more urgent.
Shawnee School District spans across multiple counties, with an interconnected transportation system and has been identified as a low-lying area in need of emergency action and evacuation plans. (The school district serves parts of Union, Alexander and Jackson counties.)
These plans will increase student and public understanding of the flood risk, transportation corridors, shelter points, messaging and overall coordination before, during and after flood events.
The intended outcome of the project includes:
•A Levee System Emergency Action Plan that the Big Five non-federal sponsors will take ownership of for implementation and make future updates as necessary.
•A levee-incident specific Evacuation Plan that local county and municipal officials will take ownership of for implementation and make future updates as necessary.
“Flood risk management is a shared responsibility, and USACE could not accomplish important projects like these without our partners,” Graef said. “At the end of the day, life safety is the top priority.”
Partners in the Big Five Levee System Emergency and Evacuation Plan include the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Big Five Levee Districts, the Alexander County Emergency Services and Disaster Agency, Union County Emergency Management and the Shawnee School District.
The project is expected to be completed by early 2022.