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Emergency directors view preparedness as year-round task

September 11, 2018

DAKOTA CITY -- When it comes to being prepared for any potential emergency situation, Deanna Hagberg admits she sometimes may go a little overboard.

If she’s eating out, she’ll survey her surroundings, locate all the exits and determine how she’d get out of the building if they were to become blocked. She’s also not going to be taken by surprise.

“If you ever see me in a restaurant, my back is never to the door,” she said, chuckling.

Hagberg, Dakota County’s Emergency Management Agency director, finds humor in her behavior, but being prepared for an emergency or disaster is no laughing matter.

September is National Preparedness Month, 30 days dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of having a plan to deal with the aftermath of an emergency or natural disaster. The awareness campaign was launched in 2004, a response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.

Hagberg, like other emergency management directors, spends September disseminating information that pertains to the month’s weekly themes of making and practicing an emergency plan, learning life-saving skills, checking your insurance coverage and saving for an emergency.

For Hagberg and other men and women in positions similar to hers, preparedness awareness isn’t a one-month mission.

“For us as emergency managers, preparing people and educating people to be prepared is a year-round job,” Hagberg said. “People have to stop and think of anything that can take place.”

But do they? To some degree, Hagberg said, but many people seem to think that they or their community are immune to disasters.

“Unfortunately, people have the perception that it’ll never happen here,” she said. “Even after the (Missouri River) flooding of 2011, people think it’ll never happen again.”

South Sioux City residents living near the Andersen Farms grain elevator this spring were reminded that there is often no warning before an emergency. An explosion severely damaged the elevator on May 29, and residents living near it were evacuated from their homes because of concerns that the structure could collapse and damage their homes. Some could not return home for 13 days until the damaged portion of the elevator was torn down.

“That’s a perfect example of you never know what or when,” Hagberg said.

Hagberg’s office is filled with thick three-ring binders containing plans on how to deal with a number of disasters and emergencies. She’s got stacks of Dakota County maps showing every street, road, fire hydrant and fire district boundary.

But for a family, developing a plan doesn’t require such a stack of information. Start simple, Hagberg said, and build from there. At the very least, sit down and decide on a meeting point where family members will gather if you get separated while evacuating your home. Know who to call to check on one another. Learn how to shut off your utilities. Take a few basic precautionary measures.

“What I find amazing is how many homes don’t have smoke alarms in them,” Hagberg said.

Preparedness can consist of many simple steps like that. Hagberg and other emergency managers push information onto their Facebook pages and through other sources, hoping people will take notice.

Are people paying attention? She thinks so.

“I do know from my Facebook page, people are liking the information and sharing it,” she said.

Hagberg will continue to send out her daily emails containing weather information, Missouri River levels and other preparedness tips to anyone who wants them, no matter if it’s Preparedness Month or not.

“All we can do is continue to put the information out there,” she said.

It’s up to the rest of us to use it to prepare for what we hope never happens.

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