Opening the Minnesota Emergency Operations Center has become all too common as spring floods approach, but there is a major difference this year.
Nine counties, mostly around the Red River, were affected by floods two years ago. A year ago, 20 counties were flooded. This year, state officials say 40 to 50 counties in most parts of the state are likely to see floods.
Deputy Director Wade Setter of Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management said that new this year is â€œthe scope and magnitude of this event.â€
The emergency center opened Thursday as floodwaters are beginning to flow into some southern Minnesota communities. It will remain open with up to 150 people from 40 state, federal and private agencies until all floodwaters recede.
Setter oversees the EOC in St. Paul, a room crammed with tables and computers, and representatives of all state agencies involved with flood issues, ranging from the State Patrol to the Board of Animal Health, from the Commerce Department to the National Guard. Also in the room are people from federal agencies such as the Coast Guard, as well as private organizations like the Red Cross.
Setter said the center is important because it allows quick and easy communication among agencies, and gives local authorities a single state government contact.
The center will work normal business hours through Sunday, then 12 hours a day unless 24-hour coverage is needed. A skeleton crew will work each night.
Also on Thursday, Gov. Mark Dayton issued an executive order that allows overweight trucks to use state and local roads to assist in the flood emergency.
â€œIt is urgent that relief efforts commence to protect the health and safety of Minnesota citizens,â€ the order read.
John Margraf of the National Weather Service said that despite the larger-than-normal moisture the state has receive this winter, there is good news: cold weather for a few days will slow river rises. â€œThat snow is on the ground. Itâ€™s not going anywhere.â€
He said the Minnesota River will experience flooding much like last fall, but Mississippi River communities from St. Paul to Red Wing could see higher crests, probably next week.
One of the EOC jobs is keeping the media informed about floods, with information about how the public should react.
The EOC provides local governments backup and finds help for a wide variety of situations, such as how to deal with livestock affected by flooding and where to find electric generators. Computer databases contain information on where needed resources can be found.
And, Setter said, everyone who can help is in the same place. â€œWe can walk across the room.â€