A summer of storms and sirens
Howling emergency sirens have been a frequent eardrum-busting experience this summer, for a couple reasons.
The obvious: The Summer of 2008 has had more threatening weather, potential tornados and generally spooky weather than most people in East Otter Tail County can remember.
But there's another reason: The tornado sirens now wail virtually every time there is a threatening weather situation--whether or not it is a bonified tornado warning.
"Emergency management philosophy has changed," said Jim Rieber, area Emergency Services Director. "Rather than plan for specific events, the new approach is to prepare to respond to any event...And emergency sirens are the best means for notifying people when they are outdoors."
"All-Hazard Compliance Planning" is the official approach by emergency service officials.
Sirens will sound throughout East Otter Tail during hazards
Sirens could be sounded for a number of potential perils:
----High winds with potential of causing damage or injury
----Evacuations, in the event of a chemical spill on the highway or railway
----Any other disaster, whether man-made or nature-made, that could require emergency crews to mobilize.
Rieber offered one scenario; farfetched--hopefully: Suppose there was a nuclear accident at the Monticello power plant. If East Otter Tail County was located within the radioactive fallout pattern, the sirens would activate.
But mostly, it is Mother Nature who will be the inspiration for the sirens.
Summer of 2008 marked by bizarre weather throughout area
"This has been an interesting year," said Rieber. "It has been a high frequency summer."
"I can't recall a summer with this much activity over a short span of time...and we've had spurts where there is a lot of different activity over the whole area," added Rieber.
Sirens have been activated, and emergency squads sent into action or on standby, a dozen times. This compares to a couple times a year, typically, said Rieber.
Cloud rotations, cyclonic bursts, straight line winds, intense rainfall, and numerous confirmed and unconfirmed funnel cloud sightings have all occurred.
Touchdowns have also been reported, most recently on July 11, when a silo was destroyed, irrigation rig overturned, grain bin hurled across a field--among other damages southeast of Frazee. There was also reports of a touchdown further north near Osage. Golf ball-sized hail pelted the area. Cloud rotations were scattered across the region--from Perham to Butler to Wolf Lake.
Emergency bulletins can be broadcast direct over Lakes 99.5 radio
When the sirens sound, the public is asked to tune into local broadcast media. In East Otter Tail, it is Lakes 99.5 radio.
"We also have the ability to connect to the radio and do direct emergency broadcasts on the air," noted Rieber. This enables officials to broadcast from scattered and remote locations.
Rieber sits on emergency management planning panels at the local, county and state level. He is also serving on a national committee aimed at creating standards for "all-hazard" planning.
East Otter Tail in good shape for disaster planning
Rieber commented on the readiness of communities in the area:
Dent: The firehall is right in town, and the facility has sirens.
Richville: The town doesn't have a fire department, but is in the process of getting a siren. The Methodist church is Richville's evacuation center.
New York Mills: The fire department is trained, said Rieber, and the city does have emergency sirens.
Henning: Has signals, and planning is in place.
"Overall, Otter Tail County has a good program," said Rieber. "It is impressive how well coordinated it is and how quickly the system is mobilized."