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.
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
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.