Safety officials tweak fair’s safety plan after last year’s storm
After a close call with Mother Nature during the opening day of last year’s Dodge County Fair, county safety officials are tweaking the fair’s emergency plan.
Matt Maas, emergency management director for Dodge County, has worked personally with Kasson EMTs, first responders, and other emergency personnel to reform the Emergency Management Plan for the Dodge County Fair.
“The fair emergency plan is in place to make sure all public safety responders in the community, volunteers, and large organizations are prepared to respond to any emergency situation,” said Maas. After last year’s weather scare, which brought damage in other areas of the county, the community is more concerned about this plan and its reform than in past years. However, the implementation of a fair emergency plan is no new feature for the Dodge County Fair.
In 2015, a meeting took place between Maas and the fair board to discuss what would be included in an ideal emergency plan for this large community event. Basing the plan off Steele County Free Fair’s emergency plan, a proposal was made that was appropriate for Dodge County. For the past six years, this plan has been in place and reformed in the wintertime annually.
“Changes are made each year, but after last year, we knew we had to make some improvements specific to weather in our plan,” said Maas. In the beginning of last year’s celebration, a large storm brewed near Kasson, threatening to ruin fair fun. In the minds of all fair participants, vendors, visitors, and emergency workers, there was lots of questioning of the storm’s severity and what to do if it continued negative development.
The Emergency Operation Center, or EOC, is historically staffed for the fair. This center is responsible for communication with the National Weather Service and local emergency workers. The center was tasked with watching the storm’s development during this time. As the severe thunderstorm progressed, high winds and hail caused damage in the northern section of Dodge County, and a funnel cloud formation was spotted. Though there was never touchdown, the funnel cloud’s development was enough to instigate a decision. When news of the damage came to those working at the EOC, the decision was made to set off the emergency sirens and begin fairground evacuation.
Thanks to the fair emergency plan, evacuation went smoothly. Only slight wind damage occurred on the fairgrounds because of the swift and calm leadership during the intense storm. Though no serious harm came from the thunderstorm, communication errors during evacuation inspired change for the 2018 fair emergency plan.
Individuals in the cattle barns did not hear the original announcement calling for evacuation that was made over the fair’s PA system, causing them to evacuate much later than preferred. In the past, fair board members have each had radios to contact or receive messages from emergency personnel. This year, cattle barn superintendents will also be receiving radios to make sure no communication errors occur in case of an emergency this year.
“We took a small lesson, debriefed on what happened, and made sure our plan for the upcoming year would be as robust as possible,” said Maas.
The compassion Dodge County’s emergency workers have for the people they serve is admirable, and the work put in year-round to develop emergency procedures for intense circumstances has certainly paid off.
Maas said, “I’ve always been in public safety one way or another. We want to make sure when someone dials 911 in Dodge County, they receive the best of the best. We aim to deliver the service they expect to get and better.” Dedicated staff will be available on-site at the fair as well as available to contact by calling 911 in case of an emergency.
For families and friends attending the fair, Maas recommends two ideas for a safe and fun experience: be weather aware and have a communication plan. Summer weather is very unpredictable, and dehydration is an issue often underestimated by fairgoers. “Make sure you check the weather before leaving the house and drink plenty of water on hot days,” said Maas.
Another important discussion to have with whoever you may attend the fair with is how contact between one another in case someone gets lost or an emergency will occur. “You never know what may happen and you want to know how and where you will meet with the people you came to the fair with in case of an emergency,” said Maas.
The new fair emergency plan will be ready to use for this year’s fair. All emergency staff hope its use will be kept to a minimum, but are happy to be looking out for Dodge County communities and visitors throughout the fair and wish all fairgoers the best.