Disaster Recovery Database - Managing a Deluge of Data


The Floods of 2008

The Floods of 2008 included floods that occurred in the Iowa River and Cedar River Basins in Eastern Iowa and Southern Minnesota from May 30 to June 15, 2008. It was the worst recorded flooding in the area since 1903.

Statewide Recovery Response – A Data Management Solution

Even before streams and rivers had crested, Iowa Governor Chet Culver knew that a rapid and coordinated statewide recovery effort would be needed. Safety, emergency relief, and prioritized rebuilding efforts were given precedence. One of the major concerns was to provide housing and financial assistance as quickly as possible for the thousands of Iowans who had lost their homes, businesses, and farm crops.

With countless details to work through, it quickly was determined that there was a need for a natural disaster data management system that could accurately and reliably:

  • Track how many people had been displaced;

  • Track how many businesses had been impacted;

  • Provide a method for flood survivors to request emergency financial and shelter assistance; and

  • Provide a method to efficiently and accurately track the receipt and distribution of relief funds.


Floods of 2008—Impact on Iowans

Largest flood in the Iowa River and Cedar River Basins since 1903.

38,000 Iowans were evacuated or displaced.

300 Iowa towns, cities and counties were affected.

83 counties were listed as disaster areas.

1,880 structures were identified with building or contents damage.

From 2008-2016, an estimated $850 million in recovery assistance was distributed.

“WE DIDN’T HAVE TO REINVENT the (data management) wheel… with ICA, the wheel was already there!”

- Diane Foss, State Homeless Programs Coordinator (Retired)

Why Institute for Community Alliances?

Officials familiar with ICA as Lead Agency for Iowa’s statewide homeless management information system (HMIS) immediately turned to ICA as a trusted and experienced data management partner. In the vetting process that followed, there were many legitimate questions.

“Was it realistic to think that the HMIS could be adapted for use as a disaster database?”

“Was it possible to capture business-level information?”

“Would data quality suffer?”

“Could the system allow for data entry at multiple satellite emergency assistance locations?”

“Was there capacity to report individual loss claims, as well as de-identified aggregate-level data?”

“How quickly could a field team of database users be trained and licensed?”

“Could reports be developed to help the State comply with diverse funder mandates and timelines?”

The ICA staff soon responded with confidence.

Not only had a homeless management information system been adapted in other locations as a disaster recovery database, a HMIS recently had been used to support extensive recovery efforts for one of the most devastating hurricanes in U.S. history.

How it Worked

Working closely with community partners and the recovery team, ICA quickly developed data collection and reporting processes to manage pass-through funds distributed to Councils of Government for re-granting and loaning to families, businesses, farmers, and municipalities.

The data system supported real-time data entry and had capacity to produce regular status updates.

In the first year of database activation, ICA provided train-the-trainer sessions and technical support for 80 data management personnel at satellite offices across Iowa.

At the same time…

A Rebuild Iowa Office was established by Governor Culver;

The Flood Center was activated in Iowa City;

Iowa legislative processes, clearance guidance, and approvals were developed for acceptance and distribution of flood recovery funds; and

Federal Emergency Management Agency flood hazard maps were being redrawn.

Over the course of the next eight years, $850 million in flood recovery assistance was distributed to assist families and communities in rebuilding Iowa homes, businesses and lives.


Key Partners and Data Utilizers

  • Iowa Governor’s Office

  • City of Cedar Rapids

  • City of Cedar Rapids – Office of Flood Recovery & Reinvestment

  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

  • Iowa Department of Economic Development Rebuild Iowa Office

  • Iowa Finance Authority

  • Iowa Homeland Security & Emergency Management System

  • Iowa Legislature

  • State of Iowa

  • U.S. Congress and Iowa Congressional Delegation

  • U.S. Department of HUD – Disaster Response System and Technical Assistance Teams

2018 Update

In October 2018, ICA began supporting data management solutions related to Hurricane Florence disaster recovery efforts in North Carolina.

Next Up


Adult Shelter Connect – Removing Barriers and Creating a Better Shelter System

In 2015, Hennepin County Minnesota was in year nine of a ten-year plan to end homelessness. Still, there had been little to no improvement in the way single adults gained access to emergency shelter.

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