The Almeda fire destroyed vehicles as well as homes and businesses. [Vickie Aldous/Mail Tribune]
A state report commissioned by the Oregon Department of Transportation highlighted the agency’s work to clean up thousands of properties and clear more than 100 miles of roads in the wake of the Labor Day fires in 2020, the costliest disaster in state history.
The Oregon Secretary of State’s office advisory report, titled “ODOT Worked Quickly to Oversee Largest Wildfire Debris Clearance Operation in State History,” looked at on the unprecedented efforts of ODOT’s Oregon Debris Management Task Force after the September 2020 fires, which included the Almeda and South Obenchain fires in Jackson County.
The 58 page report, released Oct. 20, was written by state auditors, but is not classified as a government audit, according to a press release from Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan. Instead, listeners focused on five facets of the $ 622 million cleanup in an explanatory question-and-answer format.
âThe report shows that in this extremely difficult crisis, ODOT has learned and adapted throughout the cleanup,â Fagan said in the statement. âODOT’s efforts are paving the way for the people of Oregon to rebuild their homes, businesses and communities. “
The issuance of an advisory report allowed for a faster turnaround time than a government audit, according to the Secretary of State’s office, and the statement said, “This report has gone through the same quality assurance process. as audit reports from the Audit Division.
Four of the report’s five questions focused on ODOT’s tree removal policies and procedures – a problem more acute in central and northern parts of the state with densely forested areas in the burn scar – but in a Section 5, listeners asked, “What mechanisms are in place to assess recovery efforts?” “
Auditors determined that the governor’s office conducted an “after action review of emergency response efforts” but found “no consolidated plan for a state-level review of the recovery effort. “.
“However, ODOT intends to hire a consultant to conduct an after-action review on the debris removal operations, part of the state’s recovery efforts,” the report said.
The report noted that the 2018 state disaster recovery plan had never been exercised prior to the Labor Day fires, and the 2015 state debris management plan only covered basic policy issues, not operations.
“As a result, the state’s plans contained little about the Disaster Management Task Force, which has proven to be a key group for the recovery effort,” the report said.
The report highlighted ODOT’s training plans to ensure that a ‘core group of people’ retains knowledge of forest fires and the ability to train others for salvage work in the field. the future.
The auditors also recommended âpre-contractingâ or having contracts for debris removal services in place in advance. He noted that other states already have cleanup contracts in place, which allow cleanup operations to begin as soon as it is safe to do so.
According to the report, ODOT leaders and stakeholders are already working towards this goal.
âODOT management has indicated that its procurement team is looking for contracts in other states to discuss pre-contracting later this fall,â the report said.
ODOT management intends to hire consultants to take a closer look at debris clean-up planning protocols – including permits and approvals – as well as ways to better focus on insurance collection and FEMA reimbursement.
âThe 2020 wildfires provided Oregon with an opportunity to better prepare for future disasters,â the report concludes. âODOT seems to manage the operations of felling dangerous trees well; nonetheless, this incident was unprecedented in Oregon’s history and the state could learn from the experience to be better prepared.
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