City of Northfield has no plan to make flood information flow

I discovered over the weekend that the Northfield News did file a story about the Feb. 28 flood preparedness public  meeting.  For some reason, it’s not on their website.

NFld News: City hears calls for more information during floodsWhile city leaders want residents to take precautions now, property owners want the city to give them more information before and during future flood events. "Where can we get accurate information?" asked Alex Beeby, who works at the Just Food Co-op on South Water Street.

Others who attended the meeting were critical of what the saw as the city’s inability to share necessary information with property owners along the river during last September’s flood.

And while city leaders, including Public Safety Director Mark Taylor and Tim Madigan understood residents concerns, disseminating real-time information during a crisis, they said, can be a challenge. The city will connect with local media outlets, said Taylor, and update its website as time allows.

City of Northfield spring flood preparedness public meetingI spoke at the meeting, too, pointing out that the City’s new flood preparedness information site is not set up for facilitating near-real time information flow. There’s no RSS feed, no email signup list, no blog. They don’t plan to use Twitter or Facebook. It’s a 1999 style web site, chock full of information and links but not set up at all to allow residents and local media to help new information flow virally through the social media landscape. City mothers and fathers don’t seem to understand that 1) the City is its own information channel; and 2) that its audience has audiences. It was more than a little ironic that the notice for that Feb. 28 public meeting was NOT posted to the City’s own flood preparedness page.

Straight River at Faribault 03.21.11It doesn’t appear that we’ll experience severe flooding this spring. But who knows?

After the rain this weekend, the Straight River was near 10 feet in Faribault at midnight, the second highest level in the past decade, according to the Sunday Faribault Daily News.  (See the U.S. Geological Survey real-time data site for the Straight River.)

A winter storm is a possibility this week.  Heavy thunderstorms in April could change things in a hurry.

Why not prepare now to make rear real-time flood information flow?

31 thoughts on “City of Northfield has no plan to make flood information flow”

  1. Griff,

    Communication is a KEY factor in whether responses by the public are helpful or make an emergency situation worse. There is abundant work that has been done on how to effectively respond to crises and the city is making two key mistakes in this plan:

    1. Telling businesses that they are on their own – this sends a signal that there is not an authority group for the overall response and will likely reduce the effectiveness of any response, even creating potentially counteracting measures

    2. Not providing information in semi-real time or, as you describe above, easily accessible by those wanting to know – this feeds the sense of panic and can lead to over-reactions, or an undermining of whatever authority the City believes it has in a crisis

    I hope that they will remedy both mistakes

    1. David: I do so appreciate your public policy expertise.

      Can you please speak to the issue of differing positions (as to authority AND responsibility) a city might take if they have residents along the flooding river, or if it is businesses in the core downtown, as is the situation in Northfield?

  2. 15 minutes ago, the NWS at Chanhassen issued a flood warning (WARNING, not a WATCH), for much of south central MN including Rice County.

    So is this a time for CodeRed? No.
    Should the Mayor do an immediate interview with KYMN? No.
    Should an emergency flood preparedness meeting be held at City Hall tonight? Probably not.

    But it would be helpful to citizens who might be alarmed by a county-wide flood warning if someone (Public Safety Chief Mark Taylor? Emergency Management Director Tim Isom?) could post an explanation on the city’s flood blog to put it into perspective, and then update Twitter and Facebook.

    THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN THE TWIN CITIES HAS ISSUED A

    * FLOOD WARNING FOR RAIN AND MELTING SNOW IN…
    BLUE EARTH COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA…
    BROWN COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA…
    FARIBAULT COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA…
    FREEBORN COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA…
    GOODHUE COUNTY IN SOUTHEAST MINNESOTA…
    LE SUEUR COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA…
    MARTIN COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA…
    NICOLLET COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA…
    REDWOOD COUNTY IN SOUTHWEST MINNESOTA…
    RICE COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA…
    SIBLEY COUNTY IN CENTRAL MINNESOTA…
    STEELE COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA…
    WASECA COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA…
    WATONWAN COUNTY IN SOUTH CENTRAL MINNESOTA…

    * UNTIL 330 PM CDT WEDNESDAY

    * AT 330 PM CDT…EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT HAS REPORTED NUMEROUS SMALL
    CREEKS AND STREAMS ARE OUT OF THEIR BANKS. THE WATER WILL CONTINUE
    TO SLOWLY RISE THIS EVENING DUE TO SNOWMELT. MODERATE RAINFALL
    ACROSS THE WARNED AREA IS EXPECTED TONIGHT AND TUESDAY WITH SHOWERS
    AND THUNDERSTORMS. SOME LOCATIONS IN SOUTHERN MINNESOTA COULD SEE
    RAIN TOTALS IN EXCESS OF 1 INCH.

    * RUNOFF FROM THIS RAINFALL WILL CAUSE FLOODING TO OCCUR.
    SOME LOCATIONS THAT WILL EXPERIENCE FLOODING INCLUDE…ALBERT
    LEA…BLUE EARTH…FAIRMONT…FARIBAULT…GAYLORD…HAYWARD…LE
    SUEUR…MANKATO…NEW ULM…OWATONNA…RED WING…REDWOOD FALLS…
    ST JAMES…ST PETER…WASECA…ALDEN…AMBOY…ARLINGTON…
    BELVIEW…BIXBY…BLOOMING PRAIRIE…BOMBAY…BRICELYN…BRUSH
    CREEK…CANNON FALLS…CEYLON…CLARKS
    GROVE…CLEMENTS…CLEVELAND AND COMFREY.

  3. Posted to the Strib at 9 pm last night:

    Northfield, where flash floods inundated some downtown businesses in September, ordered thousands of sandbags and will decide soon when to start sandbagging.

    “Any amount of precipitation here is going to affect the flood levels,” said Chuck Walerius, deputy police chief for Northfield. “I wish we had a crystal ball, but we do not.”

  4. How much rain fell in the Cannon River watershed last night? This WUG precipitation map indicates that we got less than a half inch around here but 1-1.5 inches in the southern parts of the watershed near Waterville and Waseca.

    The CRWP has a Google map of the watershed on their About the Cannon River Watershed page.

    After declining all day yesterday, the U.S. Geological Survey real-time data site for the Straight River at Faribault shows a significant uptick since midnight.

    1. Here’s a neat tool from the North Central River Forecast Center:

      http://www.srh.noaa.gov/ridge2/RFC_Precip/index.php?site=mpx

      Enter the zip code at the bottom to zoom in, and then you can click on the “basins” toggle at the bottom to see the Cannon and Straight watersheds on top of the 24-hour precipitation analysis. You’ll have to zoom out a bit from Northfield proper to get the entire area into view.

      Also, the Carleton weather gauge reads 0.64″ since yesterday evening.

  5. Griff – you used the word “watershed” – I’m so proud. I’ve been told most people don’t know what that is. For those that don’t it’s the area of land that drains to a body of water. FYI the Cannon River watershed includes the Straight River, many streams and about 90 lakes. Around 946,000 acres.

  6. The city’s flood information hotline (507-645-3080) has gone cold. Oy.

    Locally, the Cannon River continued to rise this weekend… Should the conditions change significantly this message will be updated.

  7. The intent of my comment at the flood meeting, though not clearly communicated, was to point out the dearth of information at any of the sources citizens typically turn to for information: the fourth estate. I looked for information at KYMN, Northfield News, and even here and Northfield.org. According to the city, their process was to transmit information through an established communications channel: Mary Rossing. If they in fact did this, there is no reason our local media outlets should have been mute.

    “News” outlets take on a certain responsibility when they assert themselves as a source for information. I hope they don’t simply point their fingers elsewhere (at the city) when they, themselves, haven’t done their own due diligence.

    It may be that the city could do more and should move newer communication methods up their priority list. It also seems readily apparent that there is more our local information sources could have done and can do to disseminate the information that the city is sending out through its established channels. We are a community that should be working together rather than expecting to vending-machine government.

      1. Griff, it’s not what a city provides that makes a vending-machine government, it’s the way the citizens interact with their government.

        Is it really fair to expect Northfield to do what Fargo/Moorhead does? They seem way larger than us, and the flood threat seems much greater. Who’s paying for that? The legislature sure doesn’t want to.

        “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” John F. Kennedy

      2. Alex- The Fargo side is in pretty good shape, since North Dakota has a surplus of funds right now. My son lives in Grand Forks, and he keeps me updated on the oil boom in western North Dakota, and how the taxes off this are a real Godsend to the state right now. Grand Forks benefited from the national response to the floods of ’97, so their dike system is built up pretty well. It is interesting that the Red River is still frozen over from Grand Forks to Canada. My son says the greatest concern is for those towns south of Grand Forks.

  8. Check out the city’s news release on Northfield,org. Also, watch the river speed by Carson Management’s window.

  9. Griff: on her KYMN interview this AM, the Mayor said there were multiple updates from Mr. Madigan, and that they were being issued to the news media, i.e. NFNews, Patch, etc.,but did not mention the City’s flood page.

  10. Griff: I’ve been thinking about this topic for a couple of days and I still can’t quite get what your complaint is. I think it’s rather easy to get relevant flood information by watching the TV news, taking a walk or a drive along the Cannon River, and checking the weather forcasts. Water level: high and getting higher. What’s being done: sandbagging. End of story.

  11. Jim, last fall as the situation became a crisis, there were many meetings, formal and informal, among city officials throughout the weekend. Few residents and downtown property owners attended those meetings so information was traveling primarily via word of mouth. Not exactly reliable. Some councilors got so frustrated with the lack of information last year that they took to posting updates on their personal Facebook Walls.

    Emailing updates to the media in a crisis is not reliable. Which reporters are off-duty and when? Which ones will excerpt from the email and make poor choices about what to include? Which media will decide to hold/embargo information so it best suits their print edition, their 8 am news cast, their blog?

    Secondly, the City needs to monitor/capture/filter the input from citizens who are using social media in a crisis, both to ask for help as well as to offer help. See this Red Cross blog post:

    The Path Forward: A call to action for the disaster response community

    Back in August we hosted a summit to examine how we might use social and mobile tools to increase disaster response collaboration amongst aid agencies, government agencies, corporations, technologists, and citizen groups. Our research suggests the public is increasingly relying on social and mobile tools in their daily lives and therefore also during emergencies. Specifically, we found that the public expects response organizations to take action on incoming social information about disasters. We also wrote a white paper, The Case for Integrating Crisis Response with Social Media, which outlined the history and current state of affairs around the public using social technologies to request help from themselves or friends and family during a crisis.

    The Summit attendees agreed that response organizations have an opportunity to use tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and SMS to inform and engage the public. In addition, we have an equally valuable opportunity to be informed and engaged by the public. If we can overcome issues such as workforce capacity, privacy, authentication, and identity, we can potentially harness the wisdom of the crowd to increase efficiency and impact in disaster response.

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