Rescue crews use floodwaters to train for disasterby Ambar Espinoza, Minnesota Public Radio
Fargo, N.D.-Moorhead, Minn. — With many of the state's rivers expected to crest this weekend, rescue crews are taking the time to prepare their boats and train for a flood disaster.
On both sides of the Red River, response crews from the state Department of Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Guard, Coast Guard and Border Patrol are ready to help.
A few days before the crest last year, the crews were rescuing people in boats. With no flooding yet this year, they've had more time to prepare and squeeze in extra training for a flood disaster.
On Thursday, 10 conservation officers from the DNR's Division of Enforcement took four airboats to an area northeast of Moorhead with overland flooding from the Buffalo River.
Instead of rescuing people, most of his team is training how to operate the watercraft, said Tyler Quandt, one of the conservation officers. It was the team's first time taking out the airboats.
"This year, we haven't used them yet, we're just in a waiting pattern to see how much higher the water is going to come up and what is going to end up getting flooded," Quandt said.
Quandt's team arrived days ago to familiarize themselves with the rescue missions and learn where most of the flooding likely will happen. The early start will help them determine where they can launch their rescue boats.
"Because of this situation that we're in here with everybody being here because of the floods, it's an opportunity for us to get extra training in," he said.
The team members remember the territory from last year, said Kevin Prodzinski, another DNR conservation officer.
"Last year when we responded to the area, it was dark out," Prodzinski said. "It was snowing, there was much more ice in the area and it was more of an emergency type of situation where it was instantaneous response going from place to place, assisting with removal of people and calls after calls."
This time around, he said, there is a sense of calm and preparedness compared to what they were forced into last year with the rain, wind, snow, and ice all coming together at one time.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service team brought as many rescue resources as Fargo requested, said Jarrod Lee, its acting division supervisor of the flood resources. The supplies included eight airboats, two of which will serve as backup. Lee said officials would bring in more material if needed.
"Seems that we are ahead of the game before the wall comes instead of playing catch up and the lessons learned from last year have been well implemented," Lee said. "We have a lot better communications, better resources as far as maps and air photos. Just overall it's a vast improvement from last year."
His crews have also squeezed in time to train along with the U.S. Coast Guard crews.
The Coast Guard brought airboats and aircraft from Ohio, Michigan, New York, and Louisiana, said Greg Zerfass, the division group supervisor for the Coast Guard and its airboats.
Zerfass said the Coast Guard has the same level of resources as last year. He said emergency personnel in Cass County, North Dakota, are well prepared because of their experience last year. That's helped the Coast Guard coordinate operations quickly with federal, state and local agencies.
"We've been able to walk straight into this like it never ended from last year," Zerfass said.
The Coast Guard arrived early to work on boats, identify any mechanical or structural problems, and give crew members experience working on flood terrain. Depending on flood levels, the Coast Guard and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may deploy together to certain areas to do welfare checks or any rescue missions, Zerfass said.
The Minnesota DNR crews also will drive to areas that may need help as the water rises. They will have their airboats in tow so they can respond quickly.
- Morning Edition, 03/19/2010, 7:20 a.m.