Red Cross prepares for disasters that could cross the northern border

Across northern Minnesota, American Red Cross disaster relief responders are working towards hosting a disaster shelter workshop in each county and tribal community. Most recently, the Red Cross teamed up with Koochiching County employees. In addition, the Red Cross connected with response partners across the U.S.-Canadian border because, as we know, ‘disasters don’t go through customs.’

Nancy Johnson with
Nancy Young with the American Red Cross Dakotas Region guides shelter training participants during a workshop in Koochiching County, March 2016. Photo credit: Richard Johnson/International Falls Journal

The training week started with a shelter set-up that included twenty-four Koochiching County employees. (The workshop was a smaller version of what was used for the statewide Vigilant Guard exercise in Duluth in the fall of 2015.) Before the participants arrived they completed the American Red Cross Shelter Fundamentals course online. During the on-site part of the training, a Red Cross team of three volunteers from the Minnesota and North Dakota guided the shelter participants. (The cross-border collaboration between states has been in place for more than two years because we’re often called to respond together.) The workshop was set-up in three stations: registration, dormitory, and feeding. There was also a training for disaster nursing. After the two-hour workshop there was an open-house for the community members who were not in the training to ask questions and to see how the Red Cross and Koochiching County can work together to shelter displaced people during disaster relief response. The Salvation was also on hand serving lunch to all who participated. (Thanks!)

rco_blog_img_CrossBorderConference2016A cross-border conference called “Disasters Do Not go Through Customs” followed the shelter training. Sponsored by the Rainy River Cross Border Planning Group, the conference  brought together around one hundred people from both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border who could work together during major disasters affecting both sides of the international border. Presentations included managing potential threats, such as train derailments, floods, tornadoes, biological outbreak, communication failures, quarantine, wild fires and terrorism. All levels of government were represented from both Canada and the United States. Railroad representatives addressed one of the biggest concerns throughout the emergency management world: train derailments involving large amounts of oil carried by rail.

Less than twenty fours after the end of the conference there was a train derailment in Callaway, Minnesota. The accident forced the town of more than 200 people to be evacuated. Red Cross volunteers from North Dakota and Minnesota as well as Salvation Army relief workers were on-scene, providing the care and sheltering that we have trained for and do so well.

Story by Tony Guerra, Disaster Program Manager for the American Red Cross Serving Northern Minnesota. You can be a Red Cross disaster relief volunteer.

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