Drill prepares county officials for disaster

Otter Tail County Public Information Officer Shannon Terry conducted a mock press conference following a simulated power outage.

How governmental agencies, private businesses and health officials communicate with the general public in the aftermath of a major power outage was part of training held April 18 at the Otter Tail County Operations Center in the town of Ottertail.

“People need to be ready and respond quickly,” says Patrick Waletzko, Otter Tail County’s emergency management director.

In many cases, a plan to action will likely include a partnership between the public and private sectors. This plan was developed following the simulated power outage.

If a major power outage did take place, the general public would need to be informed about issues such as food safety, the need to boil water, where to obtain medical assistance, emergency shelters, conserving gasoline since many service stations might be closed until power is restored and a host of other issues.

“Police would no doubt urge residents to stay home and remain off roadways until order was restored,” Waletzko said. 

Phone service providers, following major disasters, oftentimes struggle to restore services. Backup plans need to be communicated to the general public, through the use of battery-operated radios and by other means.

FEMA guidelines were shared April 18 in the aftermath of the simulated power outage.

Following is information provided in a booklet, “Every business should have a plan,” provided by FEMA:

“Develop a system for knowing who is in your building, including customers and visitors. Decide in advance who has the authority to order an evacuation.”

“If local officials tell you to evacuate, do so immediately. Identify who will shut down critical operations and lock the doors.”

“Create a chain of command so that others are authorized to act in case your designated person is not available.”

More training sessions about how to respond in the aftermath of disasters will be coordinated in future months.

Otter Tail County’s emergency management team continually provides training in order to prepare and protect county residents before, during and after emergencies or disasters.

Developing programs and best practices in partnership with residents, businesses and various governmental agencies and law enforcement helps ensure disaster prevention and readiness.