Responders say they’re ready for the season

As severe weather season gets closer, various agencies work together to prepare in the event a natural disaster strikes the area.

Among them are local law enforcement officers who train alongside other public safety agencies to be certain they will be ready to respond.

Assistant Fort Dodge Police Chief Kevin Doty said part of that training includes large-scale disaster drills.

“We’ve had large-scale training with other emergency management agencies,” he said. “We’ve also had countywide training and every couple years we do a training exercise at the airport.”

Those training exercises help officers know what they need to do in an emergency situation.

“Depending on what happens, we need to know what to do and how we respond to it,” he said. “It’s important to establish a command structure.”

If an event such as a tornado happens, Doty said officers have many responsibilities.

“We could be helping to secure the area and working to keep people from going into the affected area so they don’t get hurt,” Doty said. “People may want to look for things in the damaged area and we’d want to keep that to a minimum.”

Doty said officers would also likely be responsible for helping to look for survivors.

“It depends on what the emergency might be,” he said.

Sheriff Jim Stubbs said the Webster County Sheriff’s Department would have similar responsibilities in a natural disaster.

“We’d have to help out with traffic control, depending on where the disaster is located and how many miles it stretches out,” Stubbs said. “We also have the responsibility of search and rescue along with the fire departments.”

Like the Police Department, Stubbs said deputies would also be involved in blocking off streets to make sure people didn’t wander into a potentially dangerous area.

“One of our main objectives would be to keep the area safe and account for people who may have been in the area,” he said. “We have to pool our resources and work together with other agencies to make the area safe.”

Tony Jorgensen, Webster County Emergency Management coordinator, said a wide variety of natural disasters could happen in the county.

“There may be tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, hazardous material spills,” he said. “There are also problems when we lose power.”

Jorgensen said a group known as the Webster County Interagency Disaster Planning Committee meets once a month to plan for such emergencies.

“It has just about anybody who could possibly be activated during a disaster,” he said. “A disaster is a really bad time to be meeting new people, so we meet to plan our responses and also to make sure we all know each other.”

He added that while responding to emergencies is important, there are times when there can be too much help.

“We have to be very careful we don’t overload a situation,” he said. “There are some emergencies where people may not be needed immediately.”

One other group that helps in disasters is the Community Emergency Response Team, a team of specially trained volunteers who respond as needed to different emergencies.

“It’s important for people to pre-plan for disasters,” he said. “CERT is one way of teaching people how to take care of themselves until help can arrive.”

Though it’s hard to predict when an emergency will happen and how severe it will be, Jorgensen said the team is prepared.

“There’s only so much you can do because of personnel and budget, and you can’t be everywhere at once,” he said. “But I think that we’re as prepared as we can be.”