The City of Kokomo: Preparation Critical in Disaster Response Planning


No city official ever expects their town to be hit by a tornado two times in three years. But in August 2016, officials in Kokomo, Indiana, found themselves dealing with just that situation. An EF3 tornado touched down and stayed on the ground for seven miles, damaging about 1,000 homes. Less than three years earlier, in November 2013, a tornado had followed a similar destructive path through Kokomo.

Fortunately, there were no fatalities. Another bright spot was that “unlike the last time we were hit, we had some ideas on how to expedite recovery,” said Randy Morris, controller for the city of Kokomo. (At the time of the tornado, he was acting controller and also superintendent of parks.) “I remembered we had used Columbus Equipment Company as our go-to for the equipment necessary to expedite cleanup efforts.”

Within 12 hours of the tornado, Morris had called Environmental Division salesman Jesse Garber, and within another 24 hours, Columbus Equipment Company had delivered a Morbark 3800XL Wood Hog, American Pride log splitter and Crambo 5000 shredder to the Kokomo cleanup site. Garber also coordinated with the Indiana Department of Corrections (IDoC), which provided resources—an excavator and manpower—to help with the cleanup. “That put the city at least four days ahead of where we were the last time,” Morris said.

By the numbers, the tornado destroyed 85 homes, did major damage to another 263, and minor damage to nearly 600 more. Most of the destruction was in mature neighborhoods. The city lost more than 70 native trees believed to be at least 100 years old. All that added up to 75,000 cubic yards of debris.

Mike Breece, a maintenance foreman for the IDoC, oversaw grinding the debris, which was in six piles, each 75 to 100 feet wide, 230 feet long, and 15-18 feet tall. Many of the logs from those old trees were 4 feet or more across, so he used the log splitter before grinding them through the Morbark, which he fed with an excavator with a hydraulic thumb. Breece used the Crambo to reduce the volume on mixed waste. All the machinery performed well, Breece said, commenting that the Crambo was powerful enough to “pull down a house.”

“We spent more than three weeks grinding, and found Columbus Equipment Company very responsive. If I called Jesse with a problem, he would get right back to me with the fix. He was very helpful,” Breece said. “The mechanics also did a great job on a service call.”

While the initial cleanup is done, “there is additional cleanup required, and there will be for years,” Morris said. “We will be rebuilding playgrounds, planting trees.” In the meantime, Kokomo has mountains of wood chips. Some of the chips have been sent to a processor to be double ground and dyed, and the city will use those for landscaping, but “we have enough to last for years.” He hopes a mulch manufacturer will be interested in the remaining chips.

Like many cities, Kokomo has a disaster recovery plan, but “no plan is so detailed that it tells you what vendors to call,” Morris said. “It helps to have contacts and to know there are companies like Columbus Equipment that are experienced and can expedite the needs of communities like ours. I would recommend Columbus Equipment Company to any municipality for timeliness and responsiveness in times of disaster response.”

When Mother Nature strikes, it’s too late to prepare. Call Environmental Division Manager Mark DiSalvo at (937) 424-7678 and put an effective disaster response plan in place today!

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