4/17/2014 3:57:00 PM Severe weather; cold or hot, it happens in Minnesota April 21-25 will be Severe Weather Awareness Week
by DENISE MARTIN
Next week, you will be asked to take a few minutes and give some thought to the unthinkable. What would you have to survive on if a tornado took your home and car, or levelled general destruction upon your community? Where would you go to meet up with scattered family members if cell phones didn’t work and roads were impassable? During Severe Weather Awareness Week, April 21-25, various local emergency response planners have scheduled tornado warning siren tests and drills, but they will all state that individual preparedness is key to maintaining order during a catastrophic event.
As Director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security for Chisago County, Scott Sellman manages a number of programs and coordinates countywide planning. Ideally his work helps minimize loss of life and combats chaos in the event of a disaster. Localized Homeland Security and Emergency Management is a relatively new concept sprung from what was learned in 9-11. Sellman, a sheriff’s deputy by profession, and a Lindstrom firefighter is only the second person to hold the county position.
Sellman stresses the importance for each citizen to be mindful of next week’s significance. He can collect the necessary information about potentially hazardous materials and know which activities take place, and where, in the county. He can maintain an inventory of responders and which agency does what, and even help organize sites for mass medical care. But the best assurance that things won’t fall apart during a disaster comes back to residents, business owners, students and individual communities. Taylors Falls recognized the importance of grassroots preparedness in 2010, when the city council voted to support formation of a volunteer CERT community emergency response team.
Disaster response is local The Taylors Falls group is the only CERT in the county. It meets on the third Monday, with May 19 scheduled as their next session. (Contact Adam at city hall to learn more 465-5133 ext. 22) Gene Andersen is Taylors Falls’ team leader. He said all but one of the current 11 members have completed the intial phase of training. There’s room for about 10 more volunteers, to complete the city’s vision for the program. CERT guidelines and materials are available through the Minnesota Dept. of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (see hsem.dps.mn.gov.) The Taylors Falls CERT is trained in crowd control, directing traffic, knows where utilities are located and how to respond to potential hazards in and around Taylors Falls. The CERT, has also assisted with the sheriff’s doing volunteer coordination in the search effort in the Danielle Jelinek case. The sheriff’s contract deputy in Taylors Falls has called on CERT for traffic control.
The CERT can mobilize with gear and appropriate equipment quickly. Andersen commented, “It’s a pretty talented group,” which by-the-way the majority are women members right now. The members might be retired as Andersen is, or hold day jobs, some have extensive backgrounds that translate well to emergency scenarios like Andersen’s former civil career and Navy service, but some are newcomers to volunteering as well, he said. Having a CERT allows a community to focus on its own potential issues. “We look around and train for things that Taylors Falls is likely to experience,” Andersen added. In Taylors Falls that might mean CERT members become familiar with river rescue protocol, rock climbing issues, or gasline incidents.
Code Red fills in gaps and more Along with Thursday April 24 siren tests, the Code Red system will also be activated. Sellman explained that those enrolled onto the county Code Red alerts will be notified probably the day before, of the two severe weather warnings happening Thursday. Code Red was implemented by county commissioners who voted to subscribe to the service under Administrator Bruce Messelt’s encouragement. Messelt says Code Red has been used here to send notices of detours, to inform people of localized emergencies and April 1 it was activated to notify contacts in a specific area where a 12-year-old went missing. The electronic system uses a phone number or e mail database and can “paint” a selected area into the Code Red computer program, which automatically dispenses alerts electronically or by phone throughout a specific area as-needed. Lakes Area Deputy Chief Bill Schlumbohm tells the Press that all the county law enforcement departments utilize the system whenever distributing an alert would be of assistance. “It works well. It’s been pretty neat,” he remarked. (The youngster was located in Chisago City.)