Following three major storms that caused flooding in Ames, Iowa, in August, officials at Heartland Senior Services, which contracts with Heart of Iowa Regional Transit Agency (HIRTA) to provide demand response services in Story County, had to step into an emergency evacuation role, using its bus fleet to evacuate elderly residents from nursing and assisted living facilities.
Initially, nine drivers, Transportation Director Theresa Erlbacher and Assistant Transportation Director Josh Cliffe were called in to begin the evacuations, which began early Aug. 11, when Heartland Senior Services received a call that Riverside Manor residents needed to be evacuated due to the rising flood water, according to Cliffe.
All 44 residents and staff members evacuated from Riverside Manor were brought to Heartland's facilities. While at the facilities, the Riverside staff made phone calls to different nursing homes in the area to find places for all the residents.
"Once they all had places to go we took a little over half of the residents to nursing homes in Jasper County, and the others to the Abington on Grand," Cliffe said. "A little later in the morning, we got called to evacuate the Stonehaven Apartments and took those residents to the First Christian Church until the Red Cross station was opened up."
By that afternoon, all major roads in and out of Ames were closed because of the flood waters, and Heartland continued to serve all the passengers it could get to safely.
Cliffe credits the transportation providers' emergency plan.
"We are on call for any emergency situations where there is need to evacuate. The emergency management people in Ames have Theresa's [Erlbacher ] phone number and call as soon as they decide there is need to evacuate, we then call in all available drivers and respond as quickly as possible," he said. "This plan seemed to work very well, as we were there to evacuate an hour after the initial call."
Heartland is one of several "broker systems" used by HIRTA to provide transportation services in seven different Iowa counties. HIRTA owns and manages all the fleets, however, the services are provided directly by providers, explained HIRTA's Executive Director Julia Castillo, who added that she was pleased with the providers' job.
"As the new Director of HIRTA, only being on the job two months, I was very proud to know that our vehicles were used, and even more proud to know that our provider and its drivers were able to make such a difference during this flood emergency," Castillo said. "We are very proud and pleased to have been a part of making sure residents who were flooded out were safely transported to facilities in other counties."