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NDDES Insights January 2020

Inundated agricultural land was a common sight this fall. Above, hay bales sit submerged in water west of Fessenden, North Dakota. Gov. Doug Burgum requested a presidential major disaster declaration Dec. 13 for the impacts of an October storm that dumped heavy rain and snow on a large swath of the state and caused up to $9.7 million in damage to public infrastructure, according to preliminary assessments.

State Agencies Start Preparing for Potential Spring Flooding after Record Wet Fall in North Dakota

Officials from nearly a dozen agencies, including the Governor’s Office, N.D. Department of Emergency Services (NDDES) and North Dakota National Guard, began planning efforts today in anticipation of spring flooding after a record wet fall that has produced high river flows and left soils saturated heading into freeze-up.

The initial coordination meeting at DES headquarters in Bismarck was designed to lay the foundation for a unified approach to flood preparedness, response and recovery efforts. Other participating agencies included the Department of Agriculture, Department of Health, Department of Human Services, Department of Environmental Quality, Highway Patrol, Office of the State Engineer, State Water Commission and the National Weather Service.

“We’re starting flood preparations earlier than normal because these unprecedented wet conditions pose a serious threat to people and property next spring, in addition to the tremendous hardship they’re causing our farmers and ranchers right now,” Gov. Doug Burgum said. “While we can’t predict the weather between now and spring, we’re committed to taking a whole-of-government approach to ensure that our local communities, state agencies and federal partners are best prepared to respond and recover if major flooding occurs.”

After drought conditions affected much of the state as recently as June, the three-month period of August, September and October was the wettest on record in 125 years in North Dakota, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information.

“The wetness we've experienced over the past few months is greater than once-in-a-generation,” said Allen Schlag, hydrologist at the National Weather Service in Bismarck.

High soil moisture is the big concern moving forward, as extremely wet soils will have limited capacity to absorb snowmelt, Schlag said. The winter outlook also calls for a 40 percent chance of above-normal precipitation over the next three months. Large volumes of water are frozen in river basins, especially in the James River basin, and will have to flow through the river channels along with snowmelt next spring, Schlag said. In one silver lining, the heavy snow that blanketed much of the state last weekend should insulate the ground and reduce frost depths, allowing soils to thaw more quickly to absorb water in the spring, he noted. Schlag’s slide presentation can be viewed here.

Photo caption: Cody Schulz, Homeland Security director, right, and Maj. Gen. Al Dohrmann, N.D. Department of Emergency Services director, provide closing remarks after an initial flood planning meeting attended by multiple state agency representatives.

Mitigation Matters Project Spotlight:

University of Mary Begins First Phase of Slope Stabilization

The University of Mary is a cultural and historic private University sitting atop a large bluff south of Bismarck, ND. The Benedictine Sisters of the Annunciation opened the doors of Mary College in 1959, offering degrees in nursing and education. Now the University has grown in both size and scope, offering 54 undergraduate majors, 14 master’s degrees, and 4 doctoral degrees. Financially, the University of Mary also provides a huge economic benefit to the Bismarck-Mandan areas. Based on an economic multiplier developed by North Dakota State University, it is estimated that the University of Mary had an economic impact to the Bismarck-Mandan area of $169,556,399 in the 2015-2016 fiscal year. This impact stems from both direct spending from the University, as well as discretionary spending from students who reside in the Bismarck-Mandan area.

The University of Mary had been aware that the bluff the school sits upon had been slowly eroding over time, but it wasn’t until 2017 that the situation changed from a future issue to a current impact. As erosion caused the slope to become uncomfortably close to school infrastructure, the University hired an engineering firm to analyze the annual rate of slope erosion. Based on the analysis, it was determined that the University’s northern dormitory unit was going to be at risk from slope failure within the next 5 years, and the Administration building was going to be at risk within the next 20 years if slope erosion was not permanently stabilized.

The University reached out to the NDDES about submitting a project to stabilize the slope near the northern dormitory unit under the Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) Program, but according to FEMA regulations, private entities are not eligible to apply for these programs on their own. Based on the University’s location in Burleigh County, NDDES and the University’s project managers met with the County and were able to complete a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Through this MOU, Burleigh County was willing to act as the applicant on behalf of the University so the University could apply for FEMA funding, with the complete understanding that the County would be an applicant in name only. The University would be responsible for all local costs, construction management, environmental requirements, and grant closeout.

With this MOU in hand, the University of Mary applied to stabilize the slope near the northern dormitory under the 2017 PDM program. The proposed scope of work was to regrade the bluff to assist with drainage, and the installation of large concrete pile walls that would be drilled into the deep, undistributed soils below the previous landslide areas. The pile walls would also have tie-back anchors installed into the slope to provide additional structural support and prevent future slope erosion or landslides in that area.

The project was selected and awarded by FEMA in the summer of 2018, and the University has been working to complete the project since the time of award. Additionally, the University of Mary worked with Burleigh County to submit a second application to stabilize the slope near the Administration building under the 2018 PDM program. This project has been formally selected for funding by FEMA, and NDDES is currently waiting for the second project to be officially award as well.

The bluff the school sits on has been slowly eroding over time. The proposed scope of work for the mitigation project will include regrading the bluff to assist with drainage and the installation of large concrete pile walls.

State Radio Dispatchers Initiate Training Program for New Hires

Supervisors and assistant supervisors at State Radio recently adopted a new training curriculum to fully integrate new dispatchers into permanent work crews.

Dubbed “The Academy,” the training program puts newly hired dispatchers in a classroom setting over two weeks to learn the basics of dispatch at State Radio, including Computer Automated Dispatch (CAD), 10-code frequencies, phone call-taking and radios.

“They come into the comm center every day for an hour or so to job shadow and put the things they learned to use. After the two weeks, they are placed on staggered daytime shifts and continue to sharpen their skills with the help of a trainer,” said Shanna Johnson, State Radio communication supervisor. “This goes on until they hit three months and are then placed full time on their crews where they work the rotating day and night shifts.”

Johnson said new hires now are getting trained much faster and can work with all the various crews to become better acquainted with the entire team.

Photo Caption: Shanna Johnson, State Radio communication supervisor, far right, leads new dispatchers, Thea Jorgensen, back, and Katelynn Real, through the State Radio "Academy's" new training curriculum.

Rusty Dahlin, NDDES IT chief, visits with gives a tour of the agency's server room to students from Bismarck State College.

NDDES Hosts IT Students from Bismarck State College

Staff from NDDES’s Response Section and IT Department welcomed students from Bismarck State College Nov. 26 to the agency’s emergency operations center and State Radio’s dispatch center. The students currently are pursuing degrees within Bismarck State College’s cybersecurity academic programs. The visit provided an opportunity for the future IT professionals to see how their course work applies to professional employment, particularly in emergency response.

Members of the NDDES staff, including Rusty Dahlin, IT chief; Amy Anton, Response chief; and Geneva Anderson, WebEOC administrator; all gave presentations on their various areas of expertise. Some of those topics included conversations about the IT infrastructure and network that allows the agency to complete its missions, as well as the functionality of WebEOC and the various components that comprise the Homeland Security mission.

A Look Back at 2019:

Donlin Appointed State Radio Director

Left, Dan Donlin, new State Radio director and Mike Lynk, former State Radio director.

Former Bismarck Police Chief Dan Donlin was appointed as the new director for State Radio June 18 by Maj. Gen. Al Dohrmann, director of the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services and North Dakota adjutant general. As State Radio director, Donlin manages about 30 full-time employees and directs the department’s daily operations. He began his new assignment on July 8, 2019.

“Dan brings a wealth of experience to this position, having served for 30 years with the Bismarck Police Department,” Dohrmann said. “He ultimately knows the importance of providing steady, compassionate leadership to those who respond at a moment’s notice when help is needed. Similarly, our State Radio dispatchers will benefit from Dan’s insight, so when a 9-1-1 call comes in, they can do their jobs to aid North Dakotans who might be having their worst day.”

After three decades of service, Donlin retired from the Bismarck Police Department in July 2018. During his career, he worked on patrol as an officer, a sergeant and as a lieutenant. Donlin has worked in the department’s Investigations Section as a detective and sergeant, specializing in personal and property crimes. He also served as the director of the Police Youth Bureau, as well as the department’s public information officer. Donlin’s career also included serving 15 years on SWAT and as the deputy chief in the Field Services Division and the Support Services Division. He was promoted to chief of police on Jan. 20, 2013.

Most recently, Donlin was employed by the North Dakota Department of Transportation as a safety liaison officer for the agency’s Safety Division.

“We’re very excited to have Dan come on board as part of our team,” said Cody Schulz, director of North Dakota Homeland Security. “He no doubt has the knowledge and capability to lead State Radio and work with public safety officials across the state to ensure we employ our usual high standards when providing emergency response services.”

The Department of State Radio coordinates 9-1-1 services, as well as emergency medical, fire and law enforcement response. Twenty-five counties rely on those services for public safety communications. State Radio also provides back-up for local and regional public safety answering points located throughout the state and is the primary dispatch center for the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

“I look forward to joining the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services and State Radio team, and I am excited for the opportunity to work with such great and dedicated professionals,” Donlin said. “To work with a staff that provides life-saving public safety communications for our emergency responders and citizens throughout the state will be extremely gratifying.”

Donlin succeeded Mike Lynk, who had been the director for State Radio since January 2009 and retired at the end of June.

In a May 2019 news release, Dohrmann said, “(Mike’s) foresight in introducing new technologies and systems within State Radio has allowed for better collaboration between our local, state and federal partners. We will miss seeing Mike here at the Department of Emergency Services, wish him well in retirement and congratulate him on an impactful and fruitful career of service.”

Under Lynk’s leadership, State Radio implemented several communications technology improvements with its state and local partners. Lynk’s forward-thinking led to the development of Bank 5, a set of channels used in every public safety radio in North Dakota for mutual aid situations. The Bank 5 concept was presented nationally and has been used in other states providing interoperable communications for public safety.

Cody Schulz, N.D. Homeland Security director, renders opening comments during this week’s NDEMA Conference in Bismarck.

NDDES Staff Attend Annual N.D. Emergency Management Association Conference

Staff from the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services (NDDES) visited with their emergency management partners Aug. 27-29 during this year’s N.D. Emergency Management Association (NDEMA) Conference in Bismarck.

The event gave attendees the opportunity to network, strengthen relationships, exchange information and hear from a knowledgeable lineup of guest speakers, which included representatives from the National Weather Service, FEMA and NDDES.

Misty Richardson, Clark County Nevada senior analyst/assistant emergency manager, was in attendance to discuss the response and recovery to the Oct. 1, 2017 shooting at the Route 91 Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada. She also emphasized her team’s commitment to resiliency in their community and how they continue to make it “Vegas Strong.”

Michael Willis, director of the Office of Emergency Management for the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, closed the conference with his presentation covering the response to the 2018 Ransomware attack on the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Members of the N.D. National Guard also contribute to the conference by visiting with local emergency managers about participation in Vigilant Guard 2020, a large-scale exercise the organization is hosting next summer.

During the conference, from left to right, Geneva Anderson received an Achievement Award for her work as the WebEOC administrator. WebEOC is a web-enabled incident management tool used in North Dakota to coordinate state support to local and tribal governments.

Amy Anton received a Lifetime Achievement Award for her more than 20 years of service at NDDES. Amy currently works as the agency's Response chief.

Brenda Vossler also received an Achievement Award for her work as the training and exercise officer for NDDES.

Cody Schulz, N.D. Homeland Security director, is pictured with cadets from the N.D. Civil Air Patrol. The group assisted during the N.D. Emergency Management Associate Conference by opening the event with the “Presentation of the Colors,” in which the flags of the state and nation are carried to the front of the speakers’ stage.

Mike Smith, Williams County emergency manager; Sherry Adams, chief executive officer, Southwest District Health Unit; and Geneva Anderson, WebEOC administrator for the N.D. Department of Emergency Services, talk about their experiences serving in other state as part of the emergency management assistance compact agreement, or EMAC. EMAC is a national interstate mutual aid agreement that enables states to share resources during times of disaster.