Nationwide emergency test coming Monday

Minnesota media will take part in the first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System on Wednesday.

The test should be on nearly every radio and television channel, but outdoor sirens are not scheduled to sound.

“This test is crucial to make sure that, in the event of a national terrorist attack or other wide-ranging disaster, public safety officials and  the president have the immediate ability to address the nation,” said Kris Eide, director of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

The test will be approximately three minutes long, which is longer than the regularly scheduled weekly and monthly tests.

Minnesotans need to be ready for disasters

Minnesotans need to be ready for an emergency, state officials say, in case they need to endure a disaster on their own.

The recommendation is to have enough supplies at home to survive at least three days.

“They need to take care of themselves,” said Kris Eide, state Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division director. “They need to be resilient. They are the first responder. The firefighter is not the first responder, they are.”

State and federal officials say the public needs to prepare now in case of an emergency that could last days, or longer.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, American leaders have emphasized being prepared.

“We have had an increased emphasis on personal and family preparedness,” said Jane Braun, the Minnesota Health Department’s emergency preparedness director. “Those who can help themselves can free up the responders to help people who cannot help themselves.”

It doesn’t take much preparation, Braun said.

“If you have half a tank of gas, some cash, your own clothes and your own prescription medication you have an awful lot more chances than a person who gets a knock on the door and someone ‘says get out now,’” she said.

Preparation is vital, Eide and Braun said.

“They need to make sure they can communicate with their own family,” Eide said.

Experts suggest that each family should have a plan for what to do in an emergency.

For instance, a family should establish an out-of-town contact who might not be involved in an emergency as a contact person. And family members need to know how to contact each other.

“Where do you assemble?” Braun said is one question that needs to be answered in advance. “Where will children meet you if they evacuate school?”

As many found out during last month’s East Coast earthquake and hurricane, text messages and emails often are easier to transmit than making voice calls during heavy call times such as just after a disaster. So disaster experts suggest that everyone who has a mobile device capable of texting or going onto the Internet know how to do that.

The federal Homeland Security Department recommends what to include in a basic emergency supply kit:

– Water, one gallon per person per day.

– Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food.

– Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a weather radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both.

– Flashlight and extra batteries,

– First aid kit.

– Whistle to signal for help.

– Dust mask and duct tape to seal windows and doors.

– Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation

– Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities.

– Can opener.

– Mobile telephones with chargers.

– Prescription medications and glasses.

– Infant formula and diapers.

– Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof container.

– Cash.

– Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person.

– Complete change of clothing.

– Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper (when diluted nine parts water to one part bleach, bleach can be used as a disinfectant and in an emergency it can treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water).

– Fire extinguisher

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Extensive information on preparing for a disaster is at www.ready.gov.

Dayton declares flood emergency

Streams are rising across Minnesota, so Gov. Mark Dayton Wednesday signed an executive order declaring flood emergencies in 46 counties and two American Indian tribes, which allows the state to provide local governments with a variety of help.

Areas around the Crow, Minnesota and Mississippi rivers face a second flood crest in coming days, and many places in northwestern Minnesota are bracing for initial crests of the Red River and other streams in the area this weekend or early next week.

The state Emergency Operations Center already is open, but Dayton’s action allows the state to provide more help.

Dayton’s office reports that all state agencies are directed to continue to provide the assistance necessary to help local governments respond to and recover from flooding.

Adjutant General Richard Nash, head of the state National Guard, now has authority to order to active duty personnel, with needed equipment, to flight floods or provide relief.

Nash also may buy or lease goods needed to provide the aid.

Also available are employees and equipment from many state agencies, including the Department of Transportation.

Counties in the emergency order are Aitkin, Becker, Benton, Big Stone, Blue Earth, Brown, Carver, Chippewa, Clay, Cottonwood, Dakota, Goodhue, Grant, Hennepin, Houston, Jackson, Kittson, Lac Qui Parle, Le Sueur, Lyon, Marshall, McLeod, Morrison, Nicollet, Norman, Otter Tail, Pennington, Polk, Ramsey, Redwood, Red Lake, Renville, Scott, Sibley, Stearns, Steele, Stevens, Swift, Todd, Traverse, Wabasha, Washington, Wilkin, Winona, Wright and Yellow Medicine. Also included are the Upper Sioux Agency and Prairie island Indian Community.

State prepares to fight floods in 40-50 counties

EOC

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 “the scope and magnitude of this event.”

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.

“It is urgent that relief efforts commence to protect the health and safety of Minnesota citizens,” 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. “That snow is on the ground. It’s not going anywhere.”

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. “We can walk across the room.”

Setter

State flood emergency center opens

The state Emergency Operations Center opened today as flooding begins in southern Minnesota, with problems expected to move north in coming weeks.

Up to 150 people from state, federal and private agencies will man the St. Paul center until floodwaters recede.

While spring EOC operations have become common as floods now are an annual occurrence, this year is different in magnitude.

 Forty to 50 counties are expected to be affected by flooding this year, said Deputy Director Wade Setter of Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management. A year ago, about 20 were affected; nine, mostly near the Red River, were affected two years ago.

The EOC, a room crammed with tables and computers, houses 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 relief 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.

State ready to fight floods

Minnesotans filling and stacking sandbags are backed by a nearly invisible around-the-clock state operation coordinating everything from providing manpower to finding people to rescue horses.

The state Emergency Operations Center opens at 8:30 a.m. today with up to 100 people synchronizing a flood fight involving all 23 state Cabinet agencies, a myriad of smaller departments, federal officials and volunteer organizations such as the Red Cross. It is a one-stop disaster shop that attracts little notice outside of government decision-makers.

"I think people don’t realize how far reaching it is," said Kris Eide, Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management director, adding that everyone from sewage experts to the deaf and hard of hearing office may staff the EOC.

The command center will operate 24 hours a day whenever needed, Eide said. It likely will be busy this weekend when the Red River is expected to crest.

But it is not just the Red that threatens Minnesotans and attracts state attention. The state is gearing up to fight flooding in 28 of the state’s 87 counties with manpower from the National Guard, trucks from the Department of Transportation and coordination from Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

A Monday Gov. Tim Pawlenty executive order allows state agencies to provide local governments state-funded help. Counties on or near the Red, Minnesota and Mississippi rivers are included in the declaration.

In the past, flooding across the state was spread out over weeks.

"This year, it is kind of happening all at the same time," Eide said, admitting it is stretching state agency staffs so thin that her department at times asks local government emergency managers to help.

Pawlenty’s order allows the National Guard to get involved when a county sheriff requests help.

"When the county sheriff calls to ask for a mission, they usually talk to me," Eide said, and if she decides National Guard help is needed, she forwards the information to the Guard.

On Tuesday, more than 280 Moorhead-based infantry soldiers were put on alert and told to be ready for Red River flood fighting.

A year ago, the Guard sent 10 helicopters, two communications trailers, two forklifts, 28 electric generators and 175 vehicles to help with Red River flooding. More than 750 troops were called up for Minnesota work, with 300 more sent to North Dakota.

Capt. Randy Belden said the Guard is ready to send as many of its 12,000 soldiers and airmen as needed.

"We have been in preparation for some time," Belden said.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation monitors road conditions and Tuesday closed U.S. 75 near the Red River at Kent and another near the Minnesota River, but several others were water covered and could be closed.

"We also work to mitigate flooding," MnDOT’s Kevin Gutknecht said. "If there is a plugged culvert that we can clear to open a drainage way around a road, we do that."

MnDOT workers break up ice jams at bridges and inspect bridges to make sure they are safe.
Besides watching flooded roads, MnDOT has 860 trucks as well as other equipment available for flood fighting.

Like with other state agencies, MnDOT steps in to help when local governments cannot handle the job, said Gary Fried, the department’s emergency management director. If local contractors are available and can handle the work, MnDOT often steers local governments to them.

On Tuesday, Fried referred Clay County officials to a private business to rent lighting equipment that MnDOT did not have.

While working on floods, MnDOT employees have to keep an eye on something else, Gutknecht said. "March can be a very snowy month."

Monday’s gubernatorial order not only allows state agencies to help local governments, it:

  • Allows fuel delivery trucks serving emergency services, such as maintaining dikes, to operate without normally required permits.
  • Waives some weight limits for vehicles used to fight floods.
  • Permits commercial truck drivers to work longer than otherwise allowed.

Counties included in Pawlenty’s flood emergency declaration are Big Stone, Blue Earth, Brown, Carver, Chippewa, Clay, Dakota, Goodhue, Hennepin, Kittson, Lac Qui Parle, Le Sueur, Lyon, Marshall, Nicollet, Norman, Polk, Ramsey, Redwood, Renville, Scott, Sibley, Swift, Traverse, Washington, Wilkin, Wright, and Yellow Medicine.
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Minnesota state government flood information is available on the Web (some links may not be active until later today).

  • Highways: www.511mn.org
  • Emergency Operations Center: www.eoc.state.mn.us
  • Emergency management: www.facebook.com/pages/Saint-Paul-MN/MnDPS_HSEM-Homeland-Security-Emergency-Management/175754430840 
  • Emergency management: http://twitter.com/MnDPS_HSEM 
  • National Guard: www.facebook.com/pages/Minnesota-National-Guard-Flood-Fight-2010/376952536041
  • National Guard: www.youtube.com/user/mnnationalguard 
  • National Guard: www.minnesotanationalguard.org/2010Flood/ 
  • National Guard: http://twitter.com/MNNGFlood