One year later

One year ago, on May 12, Stevens County was hit by a huge storm that caused millions of dollars in damage. The storm brought up to 100 mile per hour wind and was later categorized as a Derecho. Power was out in the county for days. 

During the last year, many Stevens County governing officials have been working to not only recover from that storm but plan for anything similar that could hit in the future. Also this last winter, the area saw record breaking snowfalls and extended cold weather. This came after two years of decreased snowfall.

The Morris Model decided to hold a Community Resilience Building workshop to discuss the impact of the storms and share ideas about what we can do in the future. The workshop was held at the Old #1 Southside on May 1.

During the workshop a panel of representatives from various entities answered questions and explained what they had been  doing since the storm on May 12, 2022. The panel included Griffin Peck, Whitney Millard, Rebecca Young and Bryan Herrmann.

Peck talked about the wastewater treatment plant in Morris where the backup generator failed causing the city to have to dump some of the city sewage in the Pomme de Terre River. Fortunately they were able to locate a generator fairly quickly so this was limited. He talked about the need for more solar on some buildings with battery storage to use in the times of severe storms or power outages. Since the storm the city has purchased a new generator for the plant.

Millard is the Finance Director for the City of Morris. She talked about the insurance claims that needed to be filed and the amount of paperwork involved in this. The city was fortunate to have a helpful FEMA representative when it came to getting FEMA funds. She estimated that the storm caused $400,000 in damage to the city with insurance so far covering $250,000. The city lost 200 trees and had 500 other trees damaged. 

County Administrator Rebecca Young stated that the county was not as fortunate when it came to dealing with FEMA. Many of the rural farms that were affected were not able to qualify for FEMA money. This was very frustrating for the county government as they heard from rural constituents. She did have praise for the Emergency Management department which was very efficient in handling the situation. She added that the courthouse was a beacon in the center of town with power supplied by a large generator. 

Bryan Herrmann is the Vice Chancellor of Finance and Facilities at the University of Minnesota Morris. He stated that the storm could not have hit at a worse time for them. Students were taking finals and the commencement ceremony was to be held two days later. They were able to restore enough power so the students could take the finals and OtterTail worked to get the Regional Fitness Center powered in time for commencement. 

Herrmann said that we live in a county where we have a very good Emergency Management program and director. The University also has an Emergency Manager on staff. However, even through all the planning, you find some gaps when the emergency happens. He said that because of the pandemic, many of the professors were comfortable to finish the school year with on-line classes.

Lessons learned

At the end of the workshop, there was a group discussion about what is needed in the event of future disasters. One of the suggestions was a place where people who are displaced could go for shelter. The city community center may be a good location.

Other suggestions focused on generators and the importance of having these in some of the apartment buildings and elderly housing. The generators are also vital to keep the water and sewer systems working. Another form of communication was phones and how these can also not be usable during a storm. Other ways of communicating may be needed. 

Community members need to have an open mind and be adaptable to government decisions that are made to lessen storm impacts. The city and county takes weather awareness very seriously and build their own plans while also coordinating with others to make a larger plan.