When days of heavy rain flooded Denham Springs in August 2016, the city had no written emergency plan to follow.
It was a problem city leaders pointed out during interviews following the disaster. Those conversations, along with community meetings, formed the basis for Denham Strong, a set of projects and working groups that are trying to improve the city since the floods.
One of those task forces, which is focused on emergency preparedness, is now writing step-by-step instructions for how the city government will respond during the next disaster.
"This last one, they were throwing it together as they were going. If they have the plan they’ll know what the steps are," said city recovery coordinator Jeanette Clark.
Though prompted by the August 2016 flood, the plan should cover any kind of emergency, including active shooters and train derailments, according to Denham Springs Police Chief Shannon Womack.
"In our estimation, we managed that disaster pretty well," he said, referring to last year's flood. "All the department heads went on autopilot and reacted according to their training and their experience."
The plan being worked out now would allow leaders to coordinate resources better and faster, he said.
It will lay out a specific hierarchy and roles for a mayor to assign within an emergency operations center, such as incident commander, safety officer, public information officer, finances and logistics. And it should spell out the role each city department will be expected to play.
During a meeting last week, Womack said he wants to include the Cajun Navy Relief, a volunteer organization that helped rescue people from their flooded homes last summer, in disaster response plans.
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He offered the group a seat at future emergency operations centers formed during a disaster in the city. He also offered the organization spots on an upcoming training the city is applying for with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
He said authorities should work with the organization for better coordination and to avoid duplicating efforts, as sometimes happened during the flood.
"When you have outside volunteer resources, we don’t want to have two or three crews going to rescue the same people. That’s not a good use of manpower," Womack said.
Shawn Boudreaux, of Cajun Navy Relief, who attended the meeting, told Womack the relationship is the "first of its type."
"The implications of this relationship for our organization is substantial," he said.
Boudreaux indicated the organization is in the process of formalizing and creating top leadership positions and procedures.
Womack asked that Boudreaux send a spelled out version of their capabilities to the city for inclusion in the formal plan.
The police chief and a fire official at the meeting also said they wanted to see some credentialing for the volunteers.
"There needs to be a way that legitimate people are recognized by the public that they’re coming to help," Womack said.
The city plan is being adapted from the Livingston Parish plan and will need final approval from the city council, Womack said. He said the plan is about one-quarter written, and he expects to present it early next year.