Flooding post-mortem: What went right, what went wrong, and what can be learned for next time?

Friday, 8:26 am: Mayor Mary Rossing, City Administrator Tim Madigan, Councilor Jim Pokorney Friday, 10:27 am: Former City Admin Pete Stolley, City Engineer Katy Gehler, Mayor Mary Rossing, Deputy Police Chief Chuck Walerius, Friday 10:42 am, West side sandbagging Friday 7:45 pm, West side sandbagging

As some people have noted in the comment thread attached to my photo album blog post, there were a lot of smiles to be seen Friday and Saturday as citizens and students joined with community leaders and City of Northfield staff to take on the high water.

But it also appears that some things did not go well, and not just because of the power of Mother Nature.

So let’s tease out the good, the bad, and the ugly of how this ‘event’ was handled so that when the next big one occurs, we’re even more prepared.

83 Comments

  1. Griff Wigley said:

    The rain had pretty much stopped by noon on Thursday when I took my photos of Dave and Jake Hvistendahl and their crew furiously sandbagging at Froggy Bottoms.

    So what was happening behind the scenes Thursday with city officials to gear up? Were there meetings? When did the City’s Emergency Management plan go into effect? What were the communications with officials (hydrologists, emergency/public safety staff) in the counties to our south once the overnight rain totals became apparent?

    I’ve talked to some building owners who were trying to get sandbags on Thursday evening but none were available. Is that true?

    September 28, 2010
    Reply
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    When I saw Councilor Betsey Buckheit on Bridge Square Friday morning at about 10:30 am, I jokingly asked her if she was blogging the event. She laughed and indicated that she was not a news blogger but an issues blogger.

    But Saturday morning at 9 am she did post a comprehensive blog post update, noting that "The City website has limited information on its home page." She added 3 more posts over the weekend.

    The mayor is the official Public Information Officer in a city-wide emergency like this.  I did hear Mayor Mary Rossing on KYMN radio and I assume she spoke with Nfld News reporters regularly.

    But internet-based information tools (website, twitter, Facebook, etc) were either used poorly or not at all by the City.  Fortunately, Northfield.org stepped into the void with a comprehensive flood info page and KYMN, Betsey, and Locally Grown all linked to it/tweeted it. 

    Unfortunately, the City of Northfield and the Northfield News did not link to it, which is a shame.

    September 28, 2010
    Reply
    • Griff Wigley said:

      I see that the City posted a Flood Event FAQ (in English and Spanish) some time yesterday. At the bottom of page 2 of the FAQ PDF, they include a link to Northfield.org’s flood page re: volunteers:

      No further volunteers are needed at this time. However, volunteers may be needed as the City moves into clean-up mode. If you are interested in assisting, please visit the volunteer headquarters and northfield.org to sign in. You will be contacted as help is needed.

      Good to see but the linking should have happened on Friday and Saturday.

      September 28, 2010
      Reply
  3. Griff Wigley said:

    Here are some post-mortem type comments that were made in the Let the sandbagging begin blog post comment thread:

    40.1
    Dan Bergeson says:
    September 25, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    A post-mortem is definitely needed. I listened to the Jeff Johnson – Dave Hvistendahl interview also and was truly surprised to learn that there is no advance plan/prep for a flood event of any magnitude, large or small. Yesterday, I participated in a similar number of “sandbagging events” as Ross named them and had the same experience. Lots of willing hands and bodies, but no clear direction or sense of organization. It was a case of city staff and volunteers wingin’ it.

    Absolutely no one seemed to know how to properly stack sandbags, many sandbags were too heavy to handle quickly and efficiently, and there was no sense that anyone knew where and when the next round of bags should be put in place.

    We need to compile good notes about where and how the bags should be placed next time (there will be one) and we need to have some training in this whole process in advance. Seems like an exercise we should go through in Feb/March each year, just before spring runoff.

    I know this one was out of season and happened very quickly, but in hindsight, the sandbagging effort started too late.

    40.1.1
    Phil Poyner says:
    September 25, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Maybe a corps of volunteers that are willing to learn how to lead a sandbag brigade? There does seem to be a fair amount of information out there on sandbagging, such as this: http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/ageng/safety/ae626.pdf

    I’m sure there’s much more information out there.

    40.1.2
    David Koenig says:
    September 26, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    Guys, I’m going to share a different experience and perspective.

    The effort of the volunteers and volunteer fire department was great. I worked on both the Basil’s side and Archer House side of the river all day Friday. The guys from the Fire Department were incredibly responsive with our requests for sand, bags, ties, water, whatever.

    The people volunteering at these sites self-organized and did an incredible job putting all of the sandbags you see from the bottom of the parking lot behind the old Community National building to the 2nd Street Bridge. There are thousands of bags they filled. When the bags were too heavy, the call came down the line. We went from 5 shovels full to 3 as they day wore on. In short, we worked well together.

    Sure, we waited every now and then for bags and sand, but partly that was because the volunteers were so incredibly efficient at the process once the sand arrived.

    As for planning, I spoke with Deputy Chief Walerius (sp?) on Thursday morning offering to assemble some volunteer teams in case they needed sandbagging. At that time, the best information they had was that the river would not exceed its peak. He was paying attention to storms coming in and flows from the Straight River. In short, they were watching things. When they saw the need, the call went out, and volunteers came in by the hundreds.

    Someone surely planned something, otherwise we would never have had so many sandbags available to us.

    Kudos to the truck drivers who crossed ‘closed’ bridges with heavy loads of sand and delivered them exactly where we needed them.

    As an opportunity for improvement, I think we might build some lists of neighborhood and service group “response teams”. That’s easy to organize via email lists and phone trees. We might want to define organizing spots in advance so that people know where to meet to be distributed. Still, even if such was not pre-arranged in this case, the call went out and people responded.

    I’ll freely admit that my only exposure was to these two spots where we worked. Perhaps elsewhere it was more chaotic. I’m sure that those whose buildings have been damaged wish the call would have gone out sooner. But, let’s be thankful for the generally amazing job the volunteer firefighters and volunteers did in working together downtown.

    40.1.3
    Phil Poyner says:
    September 26, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    David, the reason that after-action reviews are done after operations like this is to determine not only those things that didn’t work well, but also those things that did. Hopefully the things that you saw that did work well are captured and become part of (or continue to be part of) institutional memory. I also hope that some of your ideas for improvement are recognized; I particularly liked the response team and assembly point ideas. I’d also wonder if there are some skill sets they could have used at the Emergency Operation Center if someone were to have volunteered their services. My experience with EOCs is that it’s best if the EOC reaches out for people rather than have bunches of volunteers show up at the EOC itself and potentially add chaos exactly where you least want it.

    And I agree completely with your last sentence.

    40.1.4
    David Koenig says:
    September 26, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Agreed, Phil. Good risk management is preparation and revision to plans upon realization of a risk and a helpful review.

    I just don’t want there to be disproportionate complaining. I’m see far worse in terms of responses and think that the town did a great job overcoming any weaknesses in pre-planning to which I was exposed.

    One challenge the town will always face is that city staff, council members and even fire/police teams change over time. Thus the benefit of naming pre-arranged meeting places and calling (or tweeting) trees and testing them with regularity, at least once each year.

    40.1.5
    Phil Poyner says:
    September 26, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    David, I agree in that I’d hate to see the takeaway message from all this be that “there were some problems”, particularly when there were many things that went well.

    When I was in the military they taught both us leadership and followership. In order to maximize the chances of mission success it was considered optimal to have both competent leaders with vision and enthusiastic followers. It seems to me that this situation has proven that Northfield is not lacking for enthusiastic followers! That tells me that, regardless of what may come down the pike, Northfield (as a community) already has a big part of what it needs to deal with adversity. Back when I was a younger man I read some of M Scott Peck’s books, particularly those on civility and community building. Ross’s description in 28.1.1 of things he saw (and yours) leads me to believe that Dr Peck could have used Northfield as a case study in how a community will effectively pull together in times of crisis. I hope THAT, and those organizational processes that worked best, end up being the takeaway message…with the caveat that some things could have gone better and that the lessons learned will be incorporated into future plans.

    If the city’s Emergency Operations “process owner” (I know in many places it’s the Fire Chief) finds merit in your suggestions, then annual tests of the procedures sounds like a good idea. Perhaps they could be done the same week as the annual Severe Weather Awareness Week.

    52
    Felicity Enders says:
    September 26, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    I agree; in the absence of much experience in our volunteer corps, the sandbagging went quite well. That being said, I do have a couple of specific comments:

    1. We need two roving sandbag setups on each side of the river, moving as close as possible to the next location. Each setup should have 1 extension ladder, 3-4 cut orange cones, 2 tables, shovels, and sand/bags/ties that continue to arrive without delay.

    2. If there’s any choice, the city should avoid purchasing the yellow (BIG) sandbags. Also, sandbags with ties attached are much preferred.

    3. Whenever possible, shift volunteers to Olaf side of river. There were usually plenty of people passing by on Carleton side, but the Olaf side was trickier.

    4. Start early! The measures above would have helped quite a lot, as there was a fair amount of standing around and waiting (for sand/bags/ties) and then trickiness moving bags to correct location without always having sufficient people. But even so, the effort obviously started too late given the eventual river height.

    1 & 3 are especially necessary in case the bridges close to pedestrians.

    It seemed like emails worked well to bring out the students, which really saved things at the end of the day. The prevalence of back problems is much lower in the student population!

    September 28, 2010
    Reply
  4. Griff Wigley said:

    Anyone know if ANY of the sandbagging ultimately did any good to protect a building or other property?

    I’ve heard that the big sand berm that was created from dump trucks between Larson’s Printing and SMSQ was helpful.

    September 28, 2010
    Reply
  5. Ross Currier said:

    Griff –

    I think that these comments are a good summary of the strengths and weaknesses of the community’s response to flooding. Personally, I think that overall it was quite impressive. Both the public and private sector brought bags, the community (particular praise to the high school) and the colleges provided many volunteers, and the police and fire departments achieved (in my opinion) a nice balance of being warmly welcoming to volunteers and seriously firm about tourists not putting themselves in danger.

    The biggest, and most repeated, complaint that I heard from folks over the last four days was that there was not a clear prioritization of where the resources were most needed. Specifically, it seems that there should be a prioritized list of where the dike-building was most critical so the sandbags and volunteers could be directed by the comparative level of flood threat.

    It seems that the information necessary to produce this prioritization should be readily available. I would guess it’s mostly about low spots and a little about river currents.

    Frankly, I think the property owners along the river could probably provide a pretty good start on this list.

    September 28, 2010
    Reply
  6. Bruce W. Morlan said:

    I have already commented to a few people of the dramatic difference between Friday, when community was joined in a common effort, and Saturday, when community was held at bay by the ropes and the Guard. The City built a community that Friday, and the shared experience will serve us well. Luckily, no one was seriously injured or lost to the waters, but luck is where you make it and we were pretty well served by the mix of caution and access given us by the emergency services on Friday. Even if the sandbagging for the most part was not actually responsible for saving anything (per Griff’s question), it did help us come together to a common end.

    Now, on a more technical comment … Dundas has contour maps at a very high resolution (1 foot contours, I believe) that would have been suitable for determining where sandbagging might be most efficiently used. Absent that, we saw sandbag lines set up and re-designed on the fly. Councilor Pokorney was on site by the Archer House making such calls, which, given his technical and analytical background, was very helpful. But I am astounded to hear that there was no real plan for floods. Admittedly, this was a once in a 100-yr flood, those uncommon events are precisely the ones to plan for.

    Where next? Well, there were businesses that were damaged, but businesses are exactly that, and being their own masters gives them both the freedom and responsibility to do things their way. If your location is hard to insure, maybe that is the actuaries’ way of telling you that your location is a bad location. I have heard that the owner of Froggy Bottoms (which was seriously damaged) has already started talking about how he will do it better next time (rebuilding, perhaps). I hope so, because they made one of the best sandwiches in the local area. But it also sounded like better means water resistant, not water-proof. That reasoned response to risk is refreshing in a world where far too often we hear people clamoring for that good old taxpayer-supported government fix. I am told by a citizen of Austin (MN) that the Planning Commission essentially marks high water as boundary for the new City park, but I don’t think Northfield is ready to expand Ames park across the Water Street Bridge. So we can expect a certain amount of auto-thrash as the forces of politics and policy attempt to do to the city what the flood waters only started.

    September 28, 2010
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  7. Jane Moline said:

    Interesting comments, Bruce. However, before we condemn building owners for being in the flood way, we need to recognize that their problems are of OUR making.

    This flooding was outside the 500-year flood plain–not just 100 year. The Cannon River has never been this high before. So we can say that the heavy fall rain is a result of Global Climate Change–but so what. We have experienced high rain falls before–why was this so different?

    For one, it fell almost all in the Cannon River (and Straight River) watershed–so we got all of it. Secondly, we have been busily paving and building and tiling farm fields–so we have constructed faster run off up and down the Cannon–in 1996 Dundas DOUBLED the paved area in the city when they did the street “improvement” and they eliminated ditches and swales and directed the storm sewers off of that increased pavement directly into the Cannon River.

    In Dundas, they built KMart and the new Menards in the old flood way. Of course, they got the Army Corp of Engineers to sign off that it wasn’t really a floodway–even though in the Spring of 1965 there was a whole channel of the Cannon river stretching from midway down Chester’s field, came across the east side of the old Holy Cross parsonage (where Meg Ojala and John Barbour live) over the road behind Holy Cross church and across the whole hay field where Menards and Kmart are, through the dog park (back then it wasn’t any kind of park) and over County 1 where it went through Alvin Drentlaw’s barnyard and rejoined the Cannon River. Probably 50 acres where the water could have spread but it is now restricted due to the construction.

    Who knows how much lower the river would have been if not for that restriction in Dundas.

    Anyway, it seems that since government, in their “business friendly” way allowed lots of businesses to profit at the expense of the down-river businesses–that this same government should have at least provided sand bags and sand and probably even pumps to those Northfield businesses on the river that had to contend with this man-assisted flood.

    Howver, the city did not help at all until it was time to come in and condemn and evict and ban business owners from their buildings. This is an economic low-blow in bad economic times.

    If community sandbagging had started earlier, both the Froggy Bottoms and Carlson building could have been saved from the severe damage–they would have been able to pump and keep the internal flooding pretty low with some plywood and lots more sandbags.

    All those people who volunteered on Friday would have also been there on Thursday night if they had had notice.

    It was great to see everybody helping on Friday and I think they did a tremendous job–but most of that was done after both Froggy’s and Carlson’s were lost. I think the sandbagging was very effective on the east side and almost as good on the west side where they got the sandbags up earlier (and needed them more).

    I did not find the sandbagging so confusing–as soon as there were enough people to pass the sandbags it went very quickly–heover, I did not get into town until about two in the afternoon, so perhaps the morning was more confused.

    I agree the bags they brought were too big–but beggers can’t be choosers and we did fine by only filling about a third.

    September 28, 2010
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  8. Anne Sawyer said:

    It seems to me that the city may want to work with FEMA to revisit and edit the preliminary flood map. Small changes in elevation can mean big changes on the ground… for example, the 500-yr event on the FEMA map has most of the co-op parking lot inundated, but none of the Carleton stadium…

    September 28, 2010
    Reply
    • Anne Sawyer said:

      Dang… Accidentally hit the “submit” button. Anyway, the implications of incorrect flood inundation mapping in the FEMA flood maps are obviously huge. Griff, I hope some of your aerial footage can be used to determine the boundary of the flooding, should the city decide to revisit this issue!

      September 28, 2010
      Reply
  9. Dan Bergeson said:

    My earlier comment wasn’t meant to be critical of anyone onsite filling or deploying bags. I wasn’t as articulate as Felicity #52 with details, but it seemed to me that what was occurring wasn’t very strategic. I worked mostly on the west side specifically at Larson’s and Basil’s, and wondered why we were piling bags right up against the building. Probably because the water was already there, but if we’d started earlier (planning?), we could have built a dike with some breathing room between the river and both Larson’s and the Van Erp building. We actually reformed the dike at Basil’s two or three times to try and improve it.

    I’ve never heard any talk about planning for a flood and training volunteers in prepartation for one and just think there would be merit in that.

    September 28, 2010
    Reply
  10. William Siemers said:

    A FEMA approved flood response plan will help lower flood insurance costs.

    Speaking of which, there seems to be some uncertainty about flood insurance in general. Perhaps an insurance professional can chime in here and set the record straight.

    September 28, 2010
    Reply
  11. Matt Sewich said:

    I’ll chime in on Flood Insurance…and mostly defer to FEMA’s Summary of Coverage on their website:
    http://www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/pdfs/NFIP_Summary_of_Coverage.pdf

    Hopefully the link works.

    Flood Insurance coverage is limited and if you look at the limitations for “basements” you’ll see a lot of potential problems with relying on flood insurance to help out with making individuals and businesses “whole” after a loss like we had over the last week.

    We discussed this at our office and probably the best thing we can do moving forward is hold a seminar for our clients in which we bring in company representatives (insurance companies can facilitate the sale of flood insurance along with their agencies) to help our clients decide if flood insurance is a viable product for them and protecting their assets.

    September 29, 2010
    Reply
  12. Bruce W. Morlan said:

    Jane, I did not mean to sound like I blamed the business owners, I was just saying that good business owners already factor in things like insurance costs vs benefits, and can make the call to self-insure with eyes wide open. It seems to be an unfortunate feature of our legal environment that rivers are routinely artificially corraled to the detriment of downstream communities (think Mississippi River, Red River). Building dikes to protect one city pushes water downstream faster, overloading those downstream buffers.

    The members of the local planning commissions (and I am now on the Dundas Planning Commission) MUST push staff for answers, but in the end we are not engineers or hydrologists ourselves, so the best we can do is rely on the experts provided by the cities. Well informed and concerned citizens are our best allies in the planning process, so I hope to hear more from them. But it is difficult for citizen groups to be credible, and their natural allies are too often identified as “special interest groups” rather than as true neutrals. I do plan on raising this situation at a future meeting.

    September 29, 2010
    Reply
  13. My motto is, start with a good foundation and your worries will be few, in building, business, or relationships, and anything you do.

    September 29, 2010
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  14. Paul Miller said:

    Jane made some great points, the City can require that post development run off = pre development runoff and then some amount of storm water has to be held back on developed sites, also added drain tile means quicker discharges, not sure how the city currently handles post development runoff

    sand bagging efforts seemed pretty good to me, I was proud of our community especially the students

    not a big fan of the National Guard presence, sense of community and common sense seemed to be negated

    September 29, 2010
    Reply
  15. Jane Moline said:

    I think what Paul says is important–that a development not increase run-off–but my point on the floodway in Dundas is that the government allowed the floodway to be blocked by buildings–the Kmart and especially the Menards–this did not affect “runoff” per se–it totally blocked what would have been an overflow of the Cannon River–forciing more flood waters into Northfield at a faster, higher rate.

    Unfortunately–who is going to stand up for the Northfield downtown business owners when Dundas is deciding to encourage some development (and the same for down river businesses and homes from what Northfield could do.) Bruce Morlan says that the planning commission will listen to interested parties but is already dismissing some as “special interest” groups–and who has time to run around and police various levels of government who are making all kinds of pronouncements–like the Army Corp of Engineers–who are suppose to be the experts–but the experts are wrong if they claim that the Menards building would not or did not affect the flooding of the Cannon River–obviously it did.

    By the way, the aerial flood view in the Northfield News was good–but not accurate–those riverside parking lots at Carleton were all under water.

    September 29, 2010
    Reply
  16. Curt Benson said:

    Jane, the Northfield News had an interesting article written by David Henke about flow rates in the Cannon during the flood:

    http://www.northfieldnews.com/news.php?viewStory=54527

    Henke wrote that 7,700 cubic feet of water/second was flowing down the Cannon on Friday. Putting on my
    “armchair hydrologist” hat, I tried to visualize that flow rate. If you built a box ten feet tall the size of a football field (360 feet x 160 feet, including the end zones)–that box would fill to the brim in 75 seconds at 7,700 cubic feet/second.

    I’m skeptical that the holding capacity one would have had by not having Menards/KMart in the flood way wouldn’t have made any difference in downtown Northfield last week.

    I’m guessing that if this rainfall had happened years ago, long before farm lands were drained and Dundas had some development, there’d have been dinosaurs careening down the Cannon. Of course, I could be wrong.

    And Jane, is anyone besides you making this event into a downtown Northfield business owners vs. Dundas development conflict? Your thoughts?

    September 29, 2010
    Reply
    • Phil Poyner said:

      Curt, as a point of reference this document http://www.mn.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/rwa/assessments/reports/cannon.pdf says that the average flow rate of the Cannon River for 2007 (granted, if I remember right that was a drought year) was 766.3 cu ft/sec.

      There is another factor that may partially explains why so much water ended up in the Cannon: soil moisture. August was an above average precipition month, the temperatures had been cool so evapotranspiration had been inhibited, and the result was ground that was near saturated. So…the soil couldn’t absorb much if any of the rain and it ended up in the rivers. Do I know that this is “the” answer to why the Cannon crested so high? No…I am neither a hydrologist nor a civil engineer. If FEMA or one of university’s ever study this event, I’d be interested in seeing that all the factors actually were.

      September 29, 2010
      Reply
    • Phil Poyner said:

      And another paper from a group of St Olaf students studying Water Resources Management found that the average flow rate for September is near 400 cu ft/sec. The peak flow usually happens in April…1430.5 cu ft/sec.

      September 29, 2010
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  17. Jane Moline said:

    I don’t really think this is Dundas v Northfield–as I said, something Northfield approves (like the Target which resulted in 100s of thousands of impervious surface and incresed run off in the watershed area) affects everyone downriver of Northfield. And I am absolutely certain that blocking the floodway in Dundas had a SUBSTANTIAL affect on the flow rate in Northfield.

    I am saying that the development choices over time have affected the downtown Northfield flooding–and that is not the fault of the Northfield business owners–and the government should bear some responsibility–as a collective representative of all the developers and pavers and storm sewer makers and farm drain tilers and all of the rest of us–to help these businesses both PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME for a flood event and mitigate the result.

    I think the city of Northfield responded too too late–they should have had an emergency manager assisting in the sandbagging for the Riverwalk area (especially for Froggy’s and Carlsons–but everywhere on the west side, too.) long before they finally showed. I think the fire department did a great job, as did the police–but whoever is in charge of emergency response showed a turtle-like approach. I also think the city of Northfield ignored or downplayed the importance of protecting the businesses and sorta kinda focused on saving the sidewalk. Whoo-hoo

    September 29, 2010
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  18. Griff Wigley said:

    Paul wrote:

    not a big fan of the National Guard presence, sense of community and common sense seemed to be negated

    What were the pros and cons of bringing in the National Guard?

    September 29, 2010
    Reply
    • Phil Poyner said:

      Well Griff, it doesn’t look like you’ve gotten many people to bite on this topic. Maybe I could get it started….

      Pros
      – Provided additional bodies to local law enforcement, ensuring flood related duties could be covered without day-to-day duties being dropped completely.
      – Funding for the Guard would have come from the state, giving the city additional manpower for “free”.
      – Even if the local community is upstanding, some outsiders might see our crisis as an opportunity to cause mischief. Armed troops act a pretty good deterent to that sort of activity.
      – As Bruce Wiskus stated previously “You do know that members of the National Guard and Reserve are members of the community”. It’s not like they called in a bunch of folks from places like NEW JERSEY!! These are folks that pretty much know what we’re going through.

      Cons
      – The idea of armed troops in our community make some people uncomfortable.

      September 30, 2010
      Reply
  19. Griff Wigley said:

    According to today’s Nfld News:
     

    Next week, the council will get a more thorough update, City Administrator Tim Madigan. A full debriefing is planned, said Madigan, Following that, city officials will review the workings of its emergency operation plan and recommend changes and potential improvements.

    I wonder how open/transparent that review process will be and to what extent it’ll include the public.

    September 29, 2010
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  20. Bruce Wiskus said:

    Paul,
    I response to your comment “not a big fan of the National Guard presence, sense of community and common sense seemed to be negated”

    You do know that members of the National Guard and Reserve are members of the community. In fact there are quite a few members of the Guard and Reserve in Northfield. I do not know if any of them were the ones “deployed” for this event.

    They Guard does not just come into an area unless requested. In this case I do not know who made the request but I was told on Friday that the City had requested that the Guard come in to help with security.

    September 29, 2010
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  21. Northfield, like much of Minnesota, is a very watery below the surface. We have to understand that even in times of drought, there is a lot of water in between the rocky substrate and go from there.

    In regard to the presence of the National Guard, I was not thrilled to see them either. However, it has been my experience over many years, having worked as a water focused environmentalist for the Great Lakes area, having heard of many people’s fatal run in with water, and having nearly drown in Lake Michigan as a child, some people do not understand the power of water.

    Yeah, it’s water, it’s soft, it’s pretty, but it’s like a the biggest force overcoming even the very strongest of people when it is in the form of high waves, undertows, or raging rivers. Add to that the fact that every time the newscasters tell us to stay away from the shores, the piers, and to bring in the small craft, many people will ignore those warnings because they are curious, or unaware of the consequences, or feel invincible. This is where the National Guard comes in. Some of us need them for protection against ourselves.

    September 30, 2010
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  22. Jane Moline said:

    I was happy that the National Guard was here. Yes, it did have a dampening affect on the community pulling (or gawking) together, but our VOLUNTEER fire department and police could not be expected to work continuously without sleep. I am grateful for the National Guard’s ability to respond to our emergency and provide around-the-clock supervision.

    Friday afternoon I was behind the Archer House waiting for sand and we watched some young guy stand up on the sandbag wall behind SMSQ busily texting away and immune to what would happen if the sandbags gave way and he went into the drink–the fire department guy with us radioed over to the other side and one of the fire department guys on that side got the scoflaw off the wall and back from the river. DUe to people like this we all have to put up with barriers and National Guard. The guards were all friendly to me and I am glad they could be there.

    September 30, 2010
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  23. Paul Zorn said:

    Speaking as another Paul …

    I see no downside whatever in having had the National Guard on site during the worst flooding. Their people and equipment helped local officials and non-Guard-member citizens do their things at a busy time. What’s not to like?

    Maybe there’s a general discussion to be had about excessive militarization or regimentation of modern life. But I see no connection to our flooding problems.

    September 30, 2010
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    • Phil Poyner said:

      Excessive militarization or regimentation of modern life? That ought to be an amusing discusion.

      September 30, 2010
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  24. kiffi summa said:

    I cannot think of ANY reason why people should object to the help and facilitation that the National GUard provided.
    Militarization? I am as anti-war as anyone could possibly be, but we, as adults, must be able to separate the issues of war prosecuted by political leaders, from those who are soldiers… whether active duty or Nat’l Guard.
    These Nat’l Guard soldiers were here to help Northfield, as they do in situations of varying degrees of danger from natural disaster all over our country.

    Let’s not even entertain the notion of ‘militarization’ on such a specious level.

    September 30, 2010
    Reply
  25. Helene Haapala said:

    Isn’t this what the National Guard is for? To help in cases of disasters in the state.
    I’ve never had the experience of being in a town where there were uniformed military folks and camouflage humvees about, but then I’ve never lived in a town that was so greatly affected by flooding either.
    Thanks to the National Guard, and to all the City of Northfield fire and law enforcement folks for all they did. And are still doing.

    September 30, 2010
    Reply
  26. Anthony Pierre said:

    from afar, I thought everything worked just great. a big thank you to everyone that worked the flood.

    im just wondering though, where did the fiscal conservatives go? shouldn’t they be complaining about all of the tax dollars spent and will be spent?

    September 30, 2010
    Reply
  27. I think one thing Northfield has learned is that we are not prepared for every
    possible emergency situation. Northfield wouldn’t be the only one. First of all, an incredible amount of research and guesswork would have to be set down to prepare for a bigger flood. What if the drinking water was destroyed, what if an exlosion rocked the utilities? What if, what if?

    Back in the 90s I contacted several city of Chicago departments and asked them what would happen if the city needed to be evacuated, if Lake Michigan, the only source of drinking water for most people was destroyed by a oil tanker accident…is there a plan in place to protect beaches, etc. The answer I heard over and over again, was NO, we have no plans. We never thought to plan for emergencies or anything like that. Since then, things have changed, a little.

    September 30, 2010
    Reply
  28. David Henson said:

    Anthony,

    A fiscal conservative is probably going to want to weigh the cost benefit of government actions. How were the outcomes changed by Humvees ? Are expenses applied to reaction better than expenses applied to prevention ? The reaction you saw was based on the Patriot Act of which I doubt you were a fan (nor would I be). I would have serious doubt that outcomes were changed dramatically but then I don’t really have enough information to judge the cost/benefit.

    October 1, 2010
    Reply
    • Bruce Wiskus said:

      Please explain to me how the reaction we saw was based on the Patriot Act.

      October 1, 2010
      Reply
  29. Arlen Malecha said:

    Why is it necessary to hijack this topic by making it a political conversation?

    Northfield experienced a situation like never before. Volunteers poured into the streets to give freely of their time for the betterment of business owners and the community at large.

    I for one am tired of all the political hype being brought into each thread. Why can’t everyone stay on topic?

    Praise and thanksgiving for the many wonderful volunteers, Police, Fire & Rescue, National Guard and anyone else who helped during the flood crisis.

    October 1, 2010
    Reply
  30. Jane Moline said:

    Arlen: Kumbaya to you, too. I didn’t quite get some of the riffs, but the volunteer response was wonderful. I think the police and volunteer fire people did fabulous. I was dissapointed in the “professional” response–or lack thereof–on behalf of the city of Northfield.

    The city of Northfield has an emergency manager. I am critical that the city of Northfield did not provide expertis or assistance until the greatest damage was already done. If you think this is an unnecessary politicalization of analysis of the outcome, well fine.

    I think it is unfortunate that we constantly hear about our wonderful professionals–like the mayor or city council bragging about the professionals at the city–but when the rubber hits the road we are not impressed with these “professionals” competence. They may be professionals–but at what? This topic does not get discussed–we continually “forgive” as human people who are highly compensated on the public payroll-whose mistakes are costly in many ways. In the words of Bush–“Way to go, Brownie” whoever Brownie is at the City of Northfield.

    October 1, 2010
    Reply
  31. Kathie Galotti said:

    Jane,

    I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head in the last paragraph.

    October 1, 2010
    Reply
    • Phil Poyner said:

      Rather than risking people believe that silence implies assent, I’d just like to most respectfully say that I disagree with both you and Jane on this particular topic.

      October 2, 2010
      Reply
  32. Dan Bergeson said:

    I finally took the time to read the white paper on sandbagging that Phil linked to from North Dakota State University. The link is http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/ageng/safety/ae626.pdf . Those of you who were sandbagging will notice that we did most things incorrectly no matter how earnest everyone was. Thankfully, much of our work wasn’t tested by the waters, but if it had been, I question whether it would have been effective. The walls weren’t wide enough, they weren’t pyramidal, the bags weren’t placed parallel with the flow, they weren’t interlaced to prevent seams from becoming leaks, many of them were too heavy(if filled and placed correctly bags don’t even have to be tied), and placement wasn’t pre-planned. I think all of this could be easily taught and practiced annually for the future protection of our city.

    October 2, 2010
    Reply
  33. Griff Wigley said:

    Some flooding-related resources:


    Surface Water Management Ordinance (2010) project website

    City of Northfield’s FEMA page

    City of Northfield floodplain maps

    Rice County floodplain maps

    Friday Memo for the week of January 4-8, 2010

    Community Development

    Submitted by Brian O’Connell, Community Development Director

    The City of Northfield has been notified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that the updated floodplain maps, that have been prepared throughout all of Rice County, are now ready for implementation into the existing floodplain program of the City. These updated maps have been created by FEMA and result in a higher degree of detail and accuracy being available on the maps that will improve floodplain administration. The effect of the map update effort results in little or no change to the area that is included in the floodplain. The City will be expected to enact an ordinance adopting these updated floodplain maps. This ordinance will need to be adopted prior to early summer of 2010. Staff will be bringing forward the ordinance to adopt these maps prior to the deadline.

    The plan and plat review system of the City will be changing due to the changes to the meeting times by City Council and Planning Commission. The goal of the change to the plan and plat review system is the minimize the time needed to review development plans and plats while at the same time providing sufficient time for review to insure accuracy and completeness in the review and also to adhere to the public hearing notice timelines that are set out in state statutes. Based on initial evaluation of this system change, the total time for plan and plat review should be less than what was occurring previously due primarily to the advantages created by the change in Council and Commission meeting dates.

    October 3, 2010
    Reply
  34. Griff Wigley said:

    re: Northfield’s Emergency Management Directors, from page 6 of the council packet: City Council Meeting Date: March 16, 2009
     

    CONSENT

    Item: 4
    Resolution 2009-022

    ITEM: Approve appointment of Emergency Management Directors

    ACTION REQUESTED/SUMMARY:

    The City Council is being asked to approve the appointment of Police Chief Mark Taylor as the Emergency Management Director (full time) and Tim Isom as the Emergency Management Director (part time) for the City of Northfield. These appointments were last made in 2003 when Gary Smith was Chief of Police. The appointments continue until modified by further resolution of the City Council.

    Per Chapter 18 Emergency Services of the Northfield City Code:

    • The emergency management service division shall have direct responsibility for the organization, administration and the operation to provide for the efficient performance of emergency forces during an emergency.

    • The director of emergency management, with the consent of the city administrator, shall represent the city on any regional or state organization related to the emergency management service division functions.

    Staff will be making recommendations on proposed amendments to Chapter 18 in the future to update and clarify various sections of the Emergency Services code. Staff would like to have the appointment of Chief Taylor completed prior to the storm season.

    October 3, 2010
    Reply
  35. Griff Wigley said:

    Anyone know if other cities make their emergency management plans available to the public or posts them to their websites?

    I remember requesting Northfield’s emergency management plan back in 2008 when we had the train derailment but was told the plan was off-limits — something to do with Homeland Security.

    I suppose terrorists could put something in our water supply if they had details but it seems like the public could know some aspects of the plan, in this case, what the contingency plans are for flooding.

    October 3, 2010
    Reply
    • Phil Poyner said:

      Griff, here’s a link to a number of county hazard mitigation plans from southern MN. http://www.rndc.org/HazardMitigationPlans.htm
      They’re not exactly what you’re looking for…these aren’t hazard response plans. But they do give a sense of the scope of community threats that are looked at when a response plan is put together.

      October 3, 2010
      Reply
    • Griff Wigley said:

      Thanks for that link, Phil.  I wrote to Police Chief Mark Taylor and Tim Isom:

      Mark/Tim,

      Can I get a copy of the City of Northfield’s Emergency Management Plan, similar to what’s at:
      http://www.rndc.org/HazardMitigationPlans.htm

      I couldn’t find it on the web site.

      Griff

      I heard back from Tim Isom:

      You will have to talk with Mark as to the availability of the plan to the general public. 

      October 4, 2010
      Reply
    • Griff Wigley said:

      Thanks for the link to the municipal code, Tracy. Some excerpts that are relevant to our discussion here:

      Sec. 18-29. – Duties of emergency management service division.

      (c) The emergency management service division shall prepare a comprehensive general plan for the city emergency management service division and shall present such plan to the city council for its approval. When the council has approved the plan by resolution, it shall be the duty of all municipal agencies and the emergency management service division forces to perform the duties and functions assigned by the plan as approved. The plan may be modified in like manner from time to time. The city administrator shall coordinate the EMS activities of the city to the end that they shall be consistent and fully integrated with the EMS plan of governmental subdivisions within the state.

      (d) The emergency management service division shall institute training programs and public information programs and shall take all other preparatory steps including mobilization of the EMS forces in advance of an actual disaster as may be necessary to familiarize the EMS forces and governmental officials with the effective operation of the EMS plan.

      (i) The mayor shall have direct responsibility for the overall responsibility during the declared emergency. If the mayor is absent, the president pro tem shall have direct responsibility. The mayor shall carry out all orders, rules and regulations issued by the governor pertaining to the state-called emergency. The director of emergency management service shall be responsible for all the EMS emergency personnel who have not been assigned to other city departments.

       

      October 4, 2010
      Reply
  36. Jane Moline said:

    Partly in response to Phil Poyner’s comment earlier and to reiterate my comments:

    The city declared an emergency too late. They failed to assist business owners in preventing damage to their buildings (and businesses) by ignoring the flood or by not understanding the potential for flooding. Where I think the city should have been proactively contacting business owners Thursday night, instaead they arrrived too late on Friday and then “saved” the sidewalk. Akin to the ambulance arriving after the patient is dead.

    What can we learn from this? The city could have had, at least, a list of service providers for the business owners so they could have obtained sand and sandbagging Thursday night, as well as power generators and pumping. The city could have provided emergency power generation for lighting the sandbagging areas on the river which otherwise were insufficiently lit for the night time work required.

    At BEST, the city could have provided generators, pumps, sand, and volunteers to sandbag–Thursday night.

    The volunteer turnout was fabulous and the police and fire department were obviously working hard. Too bad they started from way behind. The volunteer organization was very good. The sandbagging was a bit on the weak side as far as engineering structure–but by the time the river spread that far from its banks, the riverwalk itself dispelled much of its force and made sandbag integrity a moot point.

    October 3, 2010
    Reply
  37. Kathie Galotti said:

    A friend of mine lives near Fargo, and has a lot of sandbagging experience. She’s told me that one can’t just pile up a bunch of sandbags and have them hold against a flooding river. That’s pretty much exactly what was happening during the brief period I was down behind the Archer House. It wasn’t that anyone was ill-intentioned–it was that there was no one knowledgeable directing us. So, as Jane said, thank god the river stopped rising, because the odds of our slap-dash dike efforts are unlikely to have held up.

    If the point of this is to find areas where Northfield needs improvment, then this is one of them. That’s not to diminish the wonderful volunteer response. It is to say that volunteer response, without professional direction, isn’t necessarily going to be enough to triumph over all natural disasters.

    October 3, 2010
    Reply
  38. Arlen Malecha said:

    Kathie –

    While I was helpng sandbag I thought that things seemed to be going well; sanbags were being filled, sandbag walls were being built. Even more impressive was the fact that I did not see anyone person who seemed to be “in charge and calling the shots” and the work was getting done.

    In hindsight, I now realize that the sandbag walls were not built in the proper fashion and that perhaps there should have been someone in charge and calling the shots. Someone who was versed in how and where to build sandbag walls.

    Perhaps this is something the City’s Emergency Management Team can look into for future events like this.

    Another thought that occured to me after things settled down was, would this type of an event been the proper time for the Police to have used the CODERed system.

    http://www.ci.northfield.mn.us/assets/c/CodeRed.pdf

    Sorry, I don’t know how to embed the above link.

    Perhaps a CODERed was issued and I missed it.

    October 4, 2010
    Reply
  39. Griff Wigley said:

    Arlen, your link worked just fine. My limited understanding of CodeRed is that it would have been used if, for example, a neighborhood or section of the city needed to be evacuated due to rising floodwaters.

    I don’t think it’s intended to be used for general information, eg, expected crest, volunteer info, etc.

    October 4, 2010
    Reply
  40. kiffi summa said:

    Here’s just a little snippet from the City Council meeting last night… Mayor Rossing , at the beginning of the meeting, asked Public Safety Director, Police Chief Mark Taylor, to introduce some of the members of the Fire and Police depts who had worked flood response. He then named those persons who were in the audience,and they were asked to stand to be recognized.

    Tim Madigan, Interim City Administrator, then noted some of the City Staff members who had spent many hours dealing with the flood emergency.

    The Mayor summarized her appreciation for their work in this way: “… plan worked beautifully, and it really instilled confidence… a sense of confidence… in that we have a wonderful plan and amazing personnel to fit in those places…”

    October 6, 2010
    Reply
  41. I think Mayor Rossing was trying to be a good and positive support for the people who did put out a great deal of effort based on what they knew and had to deal with.

    I am sure that people have a better understanding than they did before about how high the water might go and what kinds of things need to be done to prevent, where not cost prohibitive, and where flood plain plans need to be put in place. I am sure someone will document all the known areas and damages that were involved. It’s not rocket science, but it’s not easy either.

    Anyone who suffered personal property damage might submit a description and cost
    of remediation to city hall so they can get a detailed picture and overall view.

    Northfield certainly didn’t undergo huge damages, like the collapse of 169 down in St. Peter, a highly used interstate road. Or like Zumbrota. But it was a minor or major inconvenience depending on your location.

    October 8, 2010
    Reply
  42. I just now had this idea for next time the Cannon travels over it’s banks.
    Sell the sand bags after the event is safely over. If everyone bought a
    sand bag for a dollar or five dollars, think of the extra money for ???
    I don’t know what happens to the sand now, I guess it goes back from
    whence it came off a hill out south, but it can be used to lighten
    up heavy clay soil, or to provide weight for trucks, a backyard sand
    box or simply be kept for a souvenir…or sold on ebay. 🙂

    October 9, 2010
    Reply
  43. Jane Moline said:

    I think Mayor Rossing is being a good cheerleader. The question is whether she can be a good LEADER–meaning identify the areas that we can improve in emergency response and make sure a plan is in place, implemented and those identified trained for their duties so response can be better, timely and focused on the greatest need. We should not be practiciing at emergencies–we should be getting it right.

    October 10, 2010
    Reply
    • Kathie Galotti said:

      Jane,

      Again, well said. To point out that there were areas that need improvement for possible future floods is in no way to undercut or show disrespect to the fabulous volunteer turnout and effort, nor to the dedicated fire, police, and national guard personnel who worked so hard. Yes, we are very grateful to them–and yes, some PARTS of the city’s plan worked well–but the overall tone of Mayor Rossing’s self-congratulatory tone seems to me to undercut the urgency of learning from our experience and fixing the parts of the plan that did NOT “work beautifully.”

      October 10, 2010
      Reply
  44. The Kanes said:

    As I sit here in our camper outside our gutted, post-flooded home just downstream from the Carlton Arboretum and read thru these comments tonight… I have to leave a reply from our perspective, downstream. We are the outsiders living on the edge of Northfield, technically in Dakota County. (Yep, we are the A-frame cabin that many of you have come by to gawk and even stop and take pictures of since the flood with all our ‘life’ spread out awaiting the dumpsters.) The flood was not an unexpected event in our world, but the severity & height of it was.

    While it had been just my husband and I evacuating the farm thru the night on Thursday as the waters rose, we would not have known what direction to go with animal care and placement on Friday. It was only thru the EMS/Response team working downtown that lined up animal foster care, and Dr. Garlie’s office that volunteered to care for 9 (yes, 9!!) farm cats, and adopted some out permanently. The organic farming community thru Monica Caldwell & Kathy Zeeman placed our chickens in permanent homes for us.

    A week or so later, the college kids hit… and OMG! I have never been so overwhelmed with such an outpouring of good energy and hard working youngsters in my LIFE! The Carleton Cross Country teams and St. Olaf swim team and other misc. St. Ole’s volunteered to come out and piled up about 60 cyds of sewage soaked house materials for removal. While our future remains uncertain in our location, one thing we know, is that we will do our best to stay in the Northfield area. Even though there was no technical or legal jurisdiction or responsbility… there were still loads of people in the community that came together in support. Next time, it’ll be our turn.

    October 17, 2010
    Reply
  45. Griff Wigley said:

    I was totally surprised when the meeting ended. I was fully expecting that there would be substantive discussion on the pros and cons of how public information/communications was handled during the 4 days of the flooding. Mayor Mayor Rossing was in charge of public information during the event but she said nothing about it last night, nor did any Councilors raise the issue. REALLY disappointing.

    October 26, 2010
    Reply
  46. Griff Wigley said:

    Here’s a resource that I found last night after the meeting, a 16 page document by the International City/County Management Association published this year titled: Local Government Use of Social Media to Prepare for Emergencies

    All local communities can find themselves facing inclement weather or another emergency situation that requires a concerted response, and this in turn is the duty of the local government’s Office of Emergency Management. 

    These offices have carried out these duties using a variety of traditional communications methods in the past, but several local governments have decided to expand their programs to make use of a newer method: the use of social media. 

    By including social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube into their existing emergency management framework, these local governments are able to reach an even wider audience amongst their citizenry, thus ensuring the vital messages being sent out are received by those who need them most.

    October 26, 2010
    Reply
    • Ross Currier said:

      Griff –

      As NDDC ED, I was contacted by Councilors Buckheit and Zweifel, as well as (apparently) future Councilor Nakasian and asked to share information with downtown stakeholders. I used face-to-face, e-mails, our webpage, and Facebook for communication.

      Face-to-face was the most meaningful form of communication but Facebook was the clearly the most effective communication tool for reaching large numbers of people.

      October 26, 2010
      Reply
  47. Griff Wigley said:

    More resources:

    Government Computer News: 5 ways to use social media for better emergency response

    Emergency management, once the province of official channels, is going where the people are.

    More people now use social media tools to report emergencies or call for help, and they expect government response agencies to be actively engaged in using the technology, too, according to a recent Red Cross survey.

    The American Red Cross’ “Social Media in Disasters and Emergencies” survey of 1,058 adults indicates that 18 percent would turn to digital social media if calls to 911 were unsuccessful.

    Sixty-nine percent of the adults surveyed said emergency response agencies should regularly monitor their Web sites and social media networks so they can respond promptly to requests for help posted there; 74 percent said they would expect help to arrive within an hour.

    Red Cross: Social Media in Disasters and Emergencies
     

    October 26, 2010
    Reply

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