Steele County responds to disasters
Last Thursday night, The Steele County Historical Society hosted a roundtable discussion entitled Standing Together When Disaster Strikes. Members from all branches of disaster response joined in to discuss how they service the people of Steele County in times of trouble.
The panel included Mike Johnson from Steele County Emergency Management, Dave Purscell from Skywarn, a weather alert service, Amy Roggenbuck of Dodge-Steele County Public Health, Lon Thiele, Steele County’s sheriff, Bethany Mikesell with the Ellendale Ambulance Service, and Justin Krell from the Blooming Prairie Fire Department.
Johnson opened the discussion by explaining how his office coordinated rescue and recovery efforts during disasters such as tornados and floods. The first part of his job is rescue, to make sure emergency response is getting the public out of immediate peril.
He went on that as soon as the rescue portion of his job ends, his office immediately turns around and begins working on recovery efforts. They access the damage done by storms and makes requests for recovery funds to rebuild.
When he spoke about the people of Steele County during times of disaster, Johnson remarked that he is always amazed by “how hard people work to save lives” and that “human nature of people taking care of each other is really remarkable.”
Purscell spoke next about his job at Skywarn and their efforts to track storms and keep emergency response appraised of potential danger. When the sirens go off, Purcell remarked, “we go toward the storms.”
When the weather gets bad, the Stormwarn volunteers take off work and make themselves viable to be placed around the county to watch how storm are progressing. The team has established several “sweet spots” around the county, where high visibility and nearby shelter allow for the best viewing.
Any member of the public is eligible to train to become a storm spotter. Stormwarn offers training sessions every spring.
Joining the panel on behalf of public health, Roggenbuck related the role of her office in preventing disease outbreaks in the county. Established in 1948, the department of public health today works at promoting vacations and preventive measures to ensure the health of Steele County residents. While her office is trained to contain outbreaks and set-up quarantines, Roggenbuck expressed her confidence that such measures were unlikely to be out to use anytime soon. She ended her talk reminding everyone, “get your flu shots.”
Sheriff Lon Thiele shared that his officers were often some of the first people on the scene after disasters. They sometimes go door-to-door checking on people and removing them from harms way.
Thinking of the disasters he’d seen, Thiele recalled his and his officers fears in the face of natural disasters. “You can’t take on mother nature,” Thiele told the audience.
Mikesell spoke briefly about how her role as an EMT varied from other responders. While the other responders started working even before the storm hit, ambulance crews had to be sent out away from the store to ensure that once the storm had passed, they would be in working condition to return and be of service.
Krill had the last turn at the mic and echoed Johnson’s sentients about Steele County residents. Looking out at the audience, he remarked, “the worst of times brings out the best of people.”
When asked what the public can do to help ensure their safety during disasters, Johnson advocated firmly for people signing up with Everbridge, a disaster waring service that people can program to call them when certain weather conditions are in their area. His suggestion was backed by the rest of the panel, who agreed that people keeping themselves informed of serve rather conditions as critical to their safety.