University and city officials collaborate following tornado

July 2, 2014

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Dr. Christina Curras

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — On the evening of June 16, an EF2 tornado ripped a path through the southwest side of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville campus as well as a portion of the city of Platteville. Since then, city and university officials have been collaborating on a number of key issues pertaining to the storm’s aftermath.

Dr. Christina Curras, professor of civil and environmental engineering at UW-Platteville, chair of the department of civil and environmental engineering and assistant dean for student services for the College of Engineering, Mathemetics and Science, has been serving as the liaison between the university and the city since the tornado struck campus. “The city and university definitely respected each other’s abilities and were willing to help and we knew we were getting done what needed to be done,” she said.

“It’s been very interesting because I have been in both groups and saw how both groups responded and saw everything that went on. I learned a lot that I hope I never ever need to use,” added Curras. “I actually feel safer now than I did before because I saw first-hand how prepared all the personnel were and how they were able to respond.”

A majority of the damage in the city was centered in the Chestnut Street and Gridley Avenue area. Seven homes were destroyed. Eighteen homes sustained major damage while 25 suffered minor damage. Overall, an estimated 60 properties were impacted. In addition, the tornado damaged several businesses along Business Highway 151, including leveling the Shell gas station building.

“It was obvious that it was much more than high winds,” said Larry Bierke, Platteville city manager. “Managing the recovery efforts was a challenge. It certainly wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the city employees, the university, all of the volunteers, and our partners in different government agencies. I met a lot of interesting people who have helped us through this and it kind of restores your confidence in the community. There’s a desire in this community for everyone to pull together in times of crisis and emergencies. And I don’t know that that’s present in every community anymore. There’s a stronger sense of community in Platteville than what I’ve seen in a lot of other areas.”

The main focus immediately following the tornado strike was caring for anyone who was injured. Five people sustained minor injuries and one person sustained major injuries.

With the event now more than two weeks old, work has moved from emergency response to recovery. The buildings that were damaged on campus including Southwest Hall, Bridgeway Commons, Rountree Commons, Engineering Hall, the Greenhouse and Ralph E. Davis Pioneer Stadium, are all undergoing repairs and are expected to re-open.

Approximately 1,000 trees in UW-Platteville’s Memorial Park were also destroyed by the tornado. Damaged trees are being removed and a restoration plan is being formulated.

Since when the tornado struck, university and city officials have worked to make sure they were on the same page. “The university had a seat in the emergency operations center, just like the hospital and other jurisdictions,” said Bierke. “Grant County Emergency Management was also there. When everyone’s sitting around the table, information flows a lot smoother. So, we knew what the university was doing and they knew what we were doing. Having that link was a very important asset for us.”

Overall, Curras says the collaborative process set in place throughout the initial emergency response and subsequent recovery has gone well.

“All along, both entities knew that the other group had a lot going on themselves so they tried to not ask for assistance from each other unless it was necessary,” she said. “At the university we knew we could reach out to UW-Madison and the other UW System schools and get help from them and so we did. The city reached out for mutual aid from Grant County as well as other cities and municipalities. Instead of asking each other for a lot of help, each group used their own resources a lot. There was the communication. There was assistance when applicable. They just trusted the other group to do what they needed to do and to ask for help if they needed it.”

“As a whole, I can’t stress enough how important it is to have that partnership and I’m hoping that as the university recovers the city can be an asset to them whether it be working through state agencies or with our legislators,” added Bierke.

A second tornado, an EF1, damaged trees at the Platteville Golf and Country Club as well as an apartment complex.

Two relief funds have been established. The Tornado Relief Fund, a collaboration between the City of Platteville, Building Platteville and the Platteville Regional Chamber, is benefiting city residents, while the Pioneer Relief Fund is benefiting university students, faculty, staff and employees who were impacted by the tornado.

More information about the Tornado Relief Fund can be found at: www.platteville.org.
Additional information about the Pioneer Relief Fund can be found at: https://www.uwplatt.edu/foundation/pioneer-relief-fund  

Contact: Dr. Christina Curras, (608) 342-1544, engineering professor, currasc@uwplatt.edu
Written by: Dan Wackershauser, UW-Platteville University Information and Communications, (608) 342-1194, wackersd@uwplatt.edu

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