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Published June 24, 2009, 12:00 AM

Public health officials share lessons learned in flood

Public health professionals from counties in northwest and west-central Minnesota gathered Tuesday in Moorhead to absorb lessons Clay County officials gleaned from the 2009 flood.

By: Dave Olson, INFORUM

Public health professionals from counties in northwest and west-central Minnesota gathered Tuesday in Moorhead to absorb lessons Clay County officials gleaned from the 2009 flood.

Including this one:

No matter how much planning you do, much of what gets done during an emergency “will be by the seat of your pants,” said Randy Bach, vice president of facilities and safety for Eventide Senior Living Communities in Moorhead.

He said large Post-It notes plastered to walls were instrumental in organizing Eventide’s evacuation of vulnerable populations during the flood.

Every resident leaving a facility was given a tag containing information about who they were and where they were supposed to go.

They were checked off a list as they left and follow-up phones calls confirmed people showed up where they were supposed to, said Deb Kaufman, Eventide nursing director.

“It was an unbelievable thing. Fortunately, everything went OK for everybody,” Kaufman said of the evacuation.

The local flood fight went more smoothly because many area emergency workers and public health officials already knew each other from things like regularly scheduled breakfast get-togethers, said Kathy McKay, the county’s public health director.

“A disaster is not the time to be meeting people,” said McKay, who added that as prepared as the county was, many things were learned during the flood that have been incorporated into a new disaster manual.

For example, McKay said that in future disasters it makes sense for public health officials to play a larger role in answering phones at emergency operation centers, as they are equipped to address the types of questions that inundated phone lines during the flood.

While other areas of Minnesota may not face the same flood threat as Clay County, McKay said stories shared Tuesday could be helpful in different situations.

“Maybe they’ll experience a tornado. Some of this planning can be useful for any disaster,” she said.

Bach said one thing nobody was prepared for was how much gridlock occurred during the flood.

In one case, a transport that was expected to take 40 minutes lasted several hours and eventually a police car was sent out to provide an escort through clogged traffic.

“We’d all like it to be a precise science,” he said, referring to emergency planning.

The reality, he added, “is a little bit different.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

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