Exhaustion sets in for emergency management workers

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COWLEY COUNTY, Kan. (KAKE) -

“The coffee pot has been used and abused,” John Stradal with the Cowley County Emergency Management Office laughed Tuesday.

Like other emergency management offices across the state, his crew is battling more than just weather after weeks of flooding and heavy rains.  Exhaustion is setting in for those tasked with keeping us safe during severe weather.

Sitting alone in the office Tuesday afternoon, Stradal listens in on the noon conference call with the National Weather Service, getting an update on storm predictions for the evening.  It’s just one of many things keeping him and others in the office working non-stop.

“It really all just depends on what the day brings,” Stradal said about his workload.

Emergency management teams are tasked with keeping the public aware of all the latest changes in a constantly changing situation, everything from road closures to home and basement flooding. 

They’ve even struggled with their own flooding problems at the office, where two sump pumps is no longer enough.  Tuesday a worker is busy putting in two more, backup, temporary pumps.

For the staff like Stradal and the volunteers who help them out, the hours are starting to blur together.

“Between Friday afternoon and Monday morning, (we) put in over 100 hours,” Stradal said.  “That’s between staff and volunteers.”

That’s also about 1/10th of their annual work hours in the office, all in one weekend.

“Really, you don’t have a choice. You just keep going,” Stradal said.

In Cowley County they try to keep a sense of humor about things, one that might be recognizable to fans of M*A*S*H.

“We know it’s a serious situation. But whatever we can do to make it a fun environment, when we can, the jokes fly,” he explained.

And everyone pitches in where they can.  In response to a call for help, Stradal runs to check the circuit breakers as work on the additional sump pumps moves forward.

“As I said, from volunteers,” he said.  “We have other county employees that come in, from the county administrator on down.”

All this work coming now, knowing it won’t be over when the rain stops.  From levies to roads and bridges, repairs will take time.

“With as much rain as we’ve had, some of them aren’t going to just bounce right back,” Stradal said about some of the roads that are still closed due to flooding or flood damage.  “In some cases it may just be whatever the new normal is. Some things may take longer than others.”