Last updated: October 18, 2023
Yellowstone National Park experienced a historic flood in June 2022. Unprecedented amounts of rainfall combined with snowmelt caused severe damage to infrastructure on the north side of the park including the north entrance road, wastewater systems, facilities, and trails. Additionally, the nearby community of Gardiner, Montana experienced considerable damage. The flood was classified as a 500-year event, meaning that the chances of a flood of this magnitude happening was just 0.2% in any given year. The flood event impacted more than just infrastructure; the flood had a significant impact on the region’s overall ecosystem.From June 10th to June 13th, heavy rain and melting snowcaps caused massive flooding in the north area of the park. The park began evacuating visitors and closing entrances over the weekend. The morning of Tuesday, June 14th, the state of Montana declared a state of emergency. Inbound visitor traffic was halted as multiple roads and bridges failed and mudslides occurred. The NPS continued to evacuate the park, starting in the north where some damage had already occurred.On June 13th by 10:00 a.m., the concessioner was aware of the substantial damage to park infrastructure. In addition to the damage to roads and bridges, the Mammoth wastewater line had been severed and wastewater was flowing into the Gardner River. At 10:15 a.m., visitor evacuation of the north loop began, followed by the evacuation of the south loop, concessions facilities, and the moving of Mammoth concessions employees to the south to lessen the wastewater flows into the river.
When an emergency occurs, the first priority is always life safety. The second priority is the stabilization of the incident. The concessioners referred to their internal crisis management plan as a means to operate during this time. The concessioner's internal crisis management plan mirrors that of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).Concessioners conducted a significant part of the evacuation of both visitors and their employees. Approximately 10,000 visitors and 2,200 concessions employees were accounted for and evacuated. Visitors in the backcountry were contacted as they made their way out of the park. The concessioner facilitated the relocation of guests and employees to nearby communities to the south, east, and west of the park. The Mammoth area was without power for over 24 hours, and visitors and employees had questions as to how the crisis would be managed. One building had power, allowing seasonal employees and others to contact family members to let them know they were safe. Concessions staff used emergency satellite phones to aid in communication after the power loss.The concessions staff had reviewed the plan regularly and everyone knew their role in the event of an emergency. Some concessions staff had crisis management experience from the 1988 fires, most were hired after 1988, and hadn’t experienced a natural disaster of this scale. The regular review of the crisis management plan and defined roles led to the successful management of operations during and after the flooding.
Recovery & Operations
Recovery efforts began as soon as the safety of visitors and employees was ensured. High water during the flood event destroyed the North Entrance Road (pictured above) in several areas. Initial damage assessments were conducted the day after the flood event. By July 1st, the Temporary North Entrance Road was opened, allowing for one-way employee traffic to reach the park. The Temporary North Entrance Road was constructed in 1879 and required over 20,000 tons of gravel to be established.The park established a reservation system for commercial tour operators (i.e., Concessioners and Commercial Use Authorizations) to bring visitors into the park from the north entrance during the Temporary North Entrance Road travel windows. Over 600 trips were saved using this system, and it provided an essential lifeline to Gardiner's local economy. Gardner was nearly vacant, but some hotels and small local businesses stayed afloat because of group bookings associated with the tours. The concessions staff at the park managed and coordinated all the logistics of the reservation system.Flood recovery was a team effort. The NPS, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), concessioners, park partners, and others worked together to assess and address the damage.The flooding created a host of logistical issues for the concessioners as the loss of the north entrance road cut off critical concessioner facilities from the park. The laundry facilities and main warehouse were located in the community of Gardiner which was no longer accessible and relocated to Old Faithful. Lodging, food, and beverage were impacted greatly. Truck drivers delivering goods in and out of the park were forced to circumvent the areas destroyed by the flood, creating long commutes on winding roads.The concessioners saw the event as a learning opportunity, adding to their current crisis management plans to be better prepared if and when another event takes place. However, the lessons learned can provide everyone an opportunity to be better prepared. For example, adapt your current crisis management plans to expand the scope of emergency response practices in the face of changing climate.August 8, 2023, marked the reopening of the Mammoth Hotel Dining Room, the last concessioner-operated facility to resume operations after the historic flood.
Discuss disaster plans with your Concessions Management Specialist often. Climate change has caused an increase in natural disasters, understand your area's vulnerabilities, and prepare accordingly. Understand and comply with local laws, codes, and regulations during a time of emergency.Revisit and revise your crisis management plan. Inform new staff members of emergency plans and remind current staff members of plans and where to find them.
What vulnerabilities exist?
Which parts of the plan need to be improved?
Who is responsible for what?
Where will visitors and employees go if they need to be evacuated?
Discuss roles and responsibilities during a crisis with your team and practice evacuation routes. Yellowstone and the community surrounding the park could not plan for the unprecedented flood.
For more information on the historic flooding and Yellowstone operations, visit nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/flood-recovery. Visit FEMA.gov to explore disaster preparedness resources like guides, vulnerability maps, and planning tools. Locate your park on the National Risk Index map and identify your area's vulnerabilities.