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Emergency responders do more planning, build relationships

If the average citizen in west central Minnesota is completely honest with him or herself, they'd probably admit that this part of the country isn't much of a terrorist target. They'd also admit to being at least a little bit complacent about the possibility.

But, thankfully, that complacency amongst the citizenry is matched with advocacy and advanced planning by state and local emergency response professionals.

"There are new threats everyday," according to Kandiyohi County Emergency Management Director Don Ericson. "The people who want to do bad things are always out there."

In the 10 years since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, local emergency agencies have received a significant amount of Homeland Security grant funding to fill gaps in communications equipment and other emergency requirements, but they've also changed their philosophy that such things could not happen here.

"Before 9/11, there was complacency," Ericson said. People thought "it's not going to happen here."

Now, first responders are cognizant of the possibility and better trained to respond, if not in their home community, then somewhere else beyond the local jurisdiction, he said.

"We may have to go and assist somewhere else," Ericson said, adding that a wider range of responders, often statewide and beyond, happen now when floods or natural disasters occur.

Those natural disasters are good training and preparation for a major event, because responders can understand their role and how they fit into a larger, statewide response.

"We need to keep planning because even if we are not a target, we are close enough to major cities" (that are more likely to be targets), he said. "We will be involved, at least in a supporting role."

The possibility -- and reality -- of school shooting incidents and public health threats, both to people and animals, are what spur Ericson and the emergency crews into advanced planning.

For example, the county department worked with officials from the State Department of Agriculture and United States Department of Agriculture regarding the possibility of avian influenza outbreak. The "bird flu" would likely have a devastating effect on one of the region's leading animal agriculture industries -- turkey and chicken production.

The planning, during organized meetings, helped all of the key players -- county officials, producers and agriculture officials -- get past that "awkward first-date feeling" and establish trust and understanding before either was needed in an emergency situation, Ericson said.

"Whatever we'd do would have an impact on the industry and whatever the industry would do would have an impact on us," Ericson explained. "The heightened awareness and possibilities have made us work with agencies we didn't work with at all before 9/11."

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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