Courthouse designated as emergency shelter 7-10-13

Posted July 12, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Courthouse designated as emergency shelter

Hand County Commissioners met Tuesday, July 2.

Following routine opening agenda items, hospital administrator Bryan Breitling presented partial payment request #31, totaling $204,496.54. Breitling said that payment, from USDA funds, will leave a balance of about $5,700.00.

The County Highway Department has been provided help with the hospital parking lot.

Breitling commented on the recent hospital donor open house and the hospital blessing ceremony, and said public tours would be given July 5 from 9 a.m. to noon.

He confirmed that a doctor has signed a contract to join the hospital staff in July 2014. He has his residency to complete before coming to Miller.

Miller Mayor Ron Blachford met with the commissioners regarding having shelters available during (especially) violent summer storms. He said after the storm of June 21, he received more calls than he has ever received about any other issue, and the bigger issue was how the people who had sought refuge at the courthouse basement were treated.

Blachford said the courthouse is a public building, and anyone should have access to it, when in need of emergency shelter.

Emergency manager Nehemia Volquardsen said during the last tornado warning (June 21), people who sought refuge at the courthouse were told that the courthouse is not open after hours and that they would need to seek shelter elsewhere if storms were to recur during the night.

Volquardsen and Sheriff Doug DeBoer are not always available to unlock the courthouse if a storm is being tracked, and during non-business hours someone would need to be available to open the courthouse and direct those seeking shelter.

DeBoer said the courthouse used to be designated as a fallout shelter, and Blachford said he remembered people seeking refuge during a tornado warning in the tunnel between the courthouse and the sheriff’s office/jail…both the tunnel and jail no longer exist.

In recent years, the signs designating the courthouse as a shelter have been removed, and items such as cots and wheelchairs have been given away.

DeBoer said he felt the commissioners should declare the courthouse as a storm shelter, and in turn ask the City to put up outside signage of where to seek shelter during a “volatile, short-term storm.”

Blachford agreed the City could post signage, and noted, “We need to get this set. I want to see prevention of a tragedy, rather than having to pick up the pieces.”

DeBoer said signs at the courthouse should be put up, back-up lights should be installed, and quick-recovery water heaters be added to first-floor bathrooms. He said his budget could cover those items, and he and Volquardsen would be responsible for getting things ready.

Also needed would be volunteers who would open the courthouse during non-business hours, and who could manage the situation while the basement was being used as a shelter.

DeBoer said they would ask for volunteers, and also see what other buildings might be available to provide shelter during a “volatile” summer storm/tornado.

He noted that shelters for long-term situations, such as a blizzard or power outage, would meet different criteria.

The commissioners voted to declare the Hand County Courthouse a storm shelter, and authorized Volquardsen and DeBoer to take the necessary steps to prepare the building as a shelter.

In other action, Volquardsen presented the county emergency manager’s activity sheet for the Commission chair’s signature, which can then be reported to the state office of emergency management.

He and Sheriff DeBoer will attend the annual S.D. Emergency Management Association meeting in September in Oacoma. He also said the Pre-Disaster Mitigation planning meetings have begun, and asked for County representation to show support to the townships and municipalities that are attending. These meetings are the place to determine “problem areas” and holding the meetings is how local emergency management has access to grant funds.

He reported one hazardous materials incident, when the St. Lawrence Post Office fuel oil tank had released some of the fuel into the basement of the building. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had been notified, and was working with the Postal Service and the property owner regarding clean-up.

Sheriff DeBoer said Deputy Patrick McGawley has completed his six-month probationary status, and the commissioners approved a 50-cent per hour wage increase.

DeAnn Hargens, Register of Deeds, reported her selection of Rebekah Koeck as Deputy Register of Deeds.

The commissioners will hold a budget meeting Thursday, July 25 at 9:30 a.m. The next regular meeting will be Tuesday, Aug. 6 at 9:30 a.m.

Meeting scheduled regarding courthouse storm shelter

At their July 2 meeting, the Hand County Commissioners officially designated that the Hand County Courthouse be used as a storm shelter.

The shelter will especially be for violent summer storms, rather than for long-term emergency situations.

Hand County Emergency Management and the Hand County Sheriff’s Office have been authorized to make necessary arrangements.

People are needed as volunteers to unlock the building during non-business hours, should shelter be necessary, and to help at the shelter.

An organizational meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, July 17 at 7 p.m. in the courthouse assembly room. All people interested in any aspect of the shelter and preparedness, or who have questions or suggestions, are urged to attend. There will be a walk-through of facilities, and time for discussion.

Call 853-2408 for more information.