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Task Force After Action Report identifies opportunities for improvement in Oregon’s preparedness

State leadership brought together a broad cross-section of stakeholders, crew members and local community representatives to reflect on Debris Management Task Force work. This refection included surveys, in-person and online workshop discussions, and staff document review. The result is an After Action Report that will be used for future state planning.

View the After Action Report here. Read an overview of the report’s findings below.

SALEM, OR – The 2020 Labor Day Wildfires burned more than 1 million acres, destroyed thousands of homes, and claimed the lives of nine Oregonians. The significant volume of burned trees, ash, and debris required the largest cleanup and hazard tree removal operation in the state’s history.

ODOT engaged an independent consultant to help review the massive cleanup effort, led by the Debris Management Task Force, and pinpoint how we can be better prepared to respond if the state faces similar events in the future.

Task Force leadership stood up a nearly 1,200 person operation in a matter of weeks in response to helping fire impacted Oregonians swiftly and efficiently. This unprecedented mission cleared debris from more than 3,000 home sites within eight counties and nine fire areas, and kept Oregon communities and travelers safe by removing nearly 100,000 dead or dying fire-damaged trees standing near communities and busy highways.

As work wrapped up in spring of 2022, a broad cross-section of stakeholders, Task Force crew members, and local community representatives came together to reflect on the accomplishments and lessons learned. Comments and recommendations were gathered via surveys, in-person and online workshop discussions, and staff document review. Participants identified challenges and successes and developed recommendations for future wildfire events.

The After Action Report found that:

“Initial activation of the Task Force challenged state agencies, but the Task Force and its partners successfully came together to develop plans and procedures to guide the protection of Oregon’s natural and cultural resources, clear debris from state and federal highways, and help Oregonians turn a page on this traumatic, yet critical, first step in the wildfire recovery process.”

To ensure faster and more efficient recovery times, Oregon can benefit from formalizing policies around activating and using a Debris Management Task Force. Determining if the existing Task Force will be used for future events and updating current state debris management plans to memorialize an organizational structure accordingly will be key to preparing for future wildfire disasters.

A majority of the administrative work for this operation was contract oversight. Working to draft solicitations and contract templates to procure pre-event standby contracts will be critical for future success. These pre-positioned contracts would allow the state to involve those firms in annual planning to prepare for quick response when disasters occur.

According to the After Action Report:

“While much of this pre-planning contract work is underway, it is recommended that state leadership further supplement these pre-planning activities with defining and delivering much needed staffing and resource capacity for the future.”

Having a process for quickly organizing this workforce is critical in planning for the next wildfire disaster. Developing and implementing statewide annual training will be beneficial to exercising state plans and improving preparedness. These annual trainings will provide additional opportunities for pre-planning activities, including reviewing Requests for Proposals, Contract Change Orders, addenda, and communications plans.

As concluded in the After Action Report:

“Leveraging existing partnerships, and incorporating lessons learned and best practices from the 2020 Labor Day Wildfires into plans, processes, policies, and training and exercise events will facilitate and help set up future cleanup and debris removal operations for success. While the impacts of the 2020 Labor Day Wildfires continue to be felt across the state, the State of Oregon must look forward and focus on preparing for wildfire disasters and other incidents that may necessitate a similar emergency response operation.”

Many lessons learned from the after action review process can be applied in other state emergency response and emergency management operations. Oregon will benefit from reflecting on future needs and planning accordingly.

The 2020 wildfires presented an historical challenge for Oregon, but the state and its people quickly came together to support one another. With what we’ve learned, we’ll be better prepared when facing future challenges to help Oregonians get back on the road to recovery.



Wildfire waste and debris removal

The State of Oregon is working with federal, state and local partners to remove hazardous waste, and ash and debris from the 2020 Oregon wildfires safely, efficiently, and as quickly as possible. The Oregon Departments of Transportation, Environmental Quality and Emergency Management are leading the effort, with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency assistance.

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