Local officials prepare for possible flooding

LAKE COUNTY DEPUTY Grant Lanning (left) listens closely as Pat Gerdes, a trainer with Blue Cell, LLC, provided background information for operating an Emergency Operations Center at the Madison Fire Hall on Thursday morning. A dozen state and local entities participated in the training. Among those in attendance were Dan Wall with the American Red Cross and Chuck Johnson, Bethel CEO and administrator.

Twelve state and local agencies were at the table on Thursday morning when trainer Pat Gerdes with Blue Cell, LLC, began to prepare them for the possibility of spring flooding.

"Everything is still vague at this point," said Lake County Emergency Management Director Kody Keefer. "We do know the ground level saturations are at record levels in parts of eastern South Dakota, but it's still in Mother Nature's hands."

A number of factors will determine whether Lake County or other parts of South Dakota see again the kind of flooding that washed across the region in September, when the area received nearly 12 inches of rain in two days. Among them are the amount of precipitation the area gets and how quickly the snow melts in the spring, according the Keefer.

With those kinds of uncertainties, the state Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is working to help counties prepare for the possibility of flooding by offering training for local officials. This will prepare them to better understand the operations and staffing of an Emergency Operations Center (EOC), including the flow of information, according to Allan Miller, response branch team leader with South Dakota Emergency Management.

"We saw this as one of those things we could do," he said.

The state has contracted with Blue Cell, LLC, to conduct 30 training sessions between mid-January and early June, Miller indicated. He said the OEM did not schedule any training during the timeframe when flooding might be expected.

According to the company's website, Blue Cell, LLC, is a planning company which focuses on providing training in incident and emergency management activities to governmental, nongovernmental and private sector entities. The company also has personnel available to deploy to assist with actual incidents.

At the Madison Fire Hall on Thursday, Gerdes began by providing an overview, talking about FEMA's field intervention teams before speaking about local efforts through multi-agency coordination (MAC) groups. He used real-life incidents to demonstrate the kinds of decisions which are made at different levels.

He used as an example the decision to resume production of insulin syringes in an area that was experiencing a widespread power outage. That decision not only put 650 back to work but also prevented a possible health crisis because the company's product was so widely used.

"All of those things were being done above our heads," Gerdes said.

However, other decisions are made at the local level. He indicated the local MAC could include elected officials, senior decision makers, senior public safety officials and high-level subject-matter experts.

"It could be anyone who has a stake in this thing," Gerdes said.

The morning overview would be followed by a functional EOC exercise on Thursday afternoon. Participants received the 18-page exercise overview prior to the training.

Designed to last for up to four hours, the exercise will address the threat of severe weather and flooding and develop four core capabilities: planning, operational communications, operational coordination, and public information and warning. Although the City of Madison and Lake County have experience in emergency operations, having opened an EOC in response to September flooding, Miller believes those in attendance would still benefit from participating.

"Hopefully, we'll walk out with everyone having some new ideas and better prepared," he said.

Keefer said that was the goal locally as well.

"We want to better prepare ourselves and our department heads for anything that comes this spring," he said.

In addition to the state OEM and Lake County OEM, the following local entities were involved: Madison Fire Department, Ramona Fire Department, Wentworth Fire Department, Madison Police Department, Lake County Sheriff's Office, Lake County Auditor's Office, Lake County Commission, Madison Regional Health System, Bethel Lutheran Home and American Red Cross.