“Butler is in a valley bowl. We're always going to get the water,” Joe Gray, city engineer, said.
“It's about controlling and management. That's all we could do,” Gray told those attending a disaster workshop Oct. 19.
The workshop was in response to a series of floods throughout the county this year. A relatively new volunteer group held the event to provide residents with a list of useful information and tips.
An identical meeting is set for Saturday at the Butler City Fire Station, 110 N. Washington St., for people who are interested in learning about flood mitigation and hydraulic cement.
The Pennsylvania Volunteers hosted the sparsely attended workshop “because we were getting calls from people who wanted to know what to do in the future,” according to Rich Wilson, the group's vice president.
Also among the people invited to speak at the workshop were Butler County Commissioner Kevin Boozel, a flood insurance expert, several disaster response organizations and a hardware representative who showed off the use of hydraulic cement, a puttylike substance used as a short-term solution to plug leaks in a flooding emergency.
Wilson urged people to attend the Saturday workshop where residents can directly question county and city officials on what actions they're taking to prevent future floods.
Residents can help
Gray explained the Butler city often experiences flooding due to the “aging system” that manages water and that there are only five city employees working in the department.
He also said a flood-control project will be complete next year on Sullivan Run — the site of a number of floods over the years. The project will remove obstructions such as small bridges that cause bottlenecks on the waterway.
“We need Butler residents to help,” Gray said. “People alter their property and don't take water flow into consideration. Property owners need to be aware. Yard waste, garbage, just to name a few things that could clog stormwater runoff.”
Those who attended had the chance to question Gray on the city's projects and plans.
Workshop speaker Brian Sholes, an employee with Mitchell Insurance, warned residents that homeowner's insurance usually doesn't include flood protection.
He noted homeowner's insurance usually just covers fire damage, even though flood losses are more common than fire losses in the county.
And even with flood insurance, there are still damages that won't be paid for by a policy.
Sholes noted that in order for a claimant to be eligible for a payout, the event needs to be a community-wide event.
So, if only one house is flooded, that wouldn't be covered by the insurance policy, he said.
Sholes also warned that the aging infrastructure of earthen dams such as the one that caused the Johnstown Flood could cause major damage without warning.
If a neighborhood is flooded, many people might be tempted to call 911, but Jim Smith, director of Butler County's Center for Community Resources, suggested calling his office or 211, a helpline service that provides information and referrals to health, human and social service organizations.
In an emergency, the helpline could provide callers with information they need to get somewhere that's safe and warm and has food.
“We exist to help you get connected to support and resources in the community,” Smith said, noting the helpline could be used at any time for any emergency, be it power outages, drug addiction or homelessness.
“The moment of epiphany doesn't occur between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. That moment of clarity usually hits at 3:30 a.m.,” he said. “It's never the wrong thing to call CCR.”
Boozel urged county residents to call 211 as a way to exercise the callers' muscles as well as the helpline's.
“211 is only as good as the information they have,” Boozel said. “They track things and the three major needs are foods, housing and utilities.”
Boozel said if residents are aware of any institutions that offer these or any other services, they should call 211 and see if the helpline is aware of the institution's existence. If not, the helpline responder will add that information to its list.
“211 isn't the solution but it will help,” Boozel said. “It's another tool in our toolbox. This is a community effort.”
Wilson made a similar observation: “We all have to work together. This is our county and we need to take care of each other.”
The workshop also served as a community event, where volunteers from various organizations, such as Team Rubicon, shared stories over coffee and doughnuts.
Disaster Workshop Primer
Useful information mentioned during the Oct. 19 workshop:
- A mobile application called Code Red allows people to get notifications about impending disasters and emergencies sent directly to their phones.
- One inch of water in a home can cost $25,000 in losses, according to Brian Sholes, an employee with Mitchell Insurance.
- Standard flood insurances are underwritten by FEMA, which in turn is funded by taxpayers. There's a maximum limit of $250,000 in relief funds for each claim. More than that would need to be covered by a private, excess insurance policy that is separate from FEMA.
- The fastest way to file a flood claim is using the website myflood.com. Second best is calling 800-759-8656.
- Take pictures for evidence of all flood damage, especially photographs that illustrate the high water mark.
- Hydraulic cement is offered at most hardware stores. It consists of a powder that, when mixed with the right amount of water, takes on a doughlike consistency that can be slathered over a hole in a house's foundation to stop a leak. The cement can be applied even when water is rushing in, and it is quick drying.
In the case of an expected emergency such as a snowstorm, prepare all electronics by making sure they're fully charged.
- In the case of power loss, a crank radio should be available, along with at least a five-day water supply
- As a general rule, one person needs to use at least one gallon of water per day.
- Food and medicine should also be on hand.
- In the case of flooding, do not try to walk into moving water that is above 4 to 5 inches high as it will sweep you off your feet.
- Even with standing water, avoid wading in as there might be something dangerous in the water.
- For cars, a foot of water will sweep away most sedans.
- A foot and a half of water will do the same for pickups and SUVs.