U website dispenses information, aids flood relief

by Douglas Rojas

After leading Minnesota through another winter, a University office is helping the community with another challenge — the spring thaw.
The Minnesota Extension Service, a University outreach agency, put together a World Wide Web site, named “Minnesota Meltdown,” with information on how to cope with the floods that are currently saturating the state. The agency created a similar site in early February with online information about the severe weather conditions of this year’s winter season.
The idea behind the site is “trying to get something organized to deal with the problem and to encourage people to plan ahead,” said Marilyn Grantham, an extension program leader, “so they know what they have to do before and after the flood.”
The extension service makes University research available to Minnesota community members. The agency also works with other colleges on campus, such as the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences and the College of Human Ecology. There is an extension office in every county in the state.
The flood is a perfect example of this multidisciplinary effort taking place in the extension service, said Katherine Fennelly, dean and director of the agency. In this kind of crisis, water quality issues go hand in hand with family issues, such as children missing school, she said.
In addition to providing information on crops, climate and the environment, the Website provides a wide range of advice on water testing, cleaning up and repairing after a flood and health and food safety. The site also mentions ways to deal with family and personal stress situations and financial troubles created by the flood.
“This is one of the most efficient ways to give information to the counties,” said University student John Winzenburg, a writer and editor with the agency.
“This year we were ahead of the game,” said Richard Kvols, extension educator with Yellow Medicine County. The fast and easy availability of information on the Web page allowed the extension’s county office to inform the community more than three weeks in advance about the floods, he said.
People were really surprised by the amount of information available on the site concerning how to deal with the flood before it actually started, Kvols said.
While informing the community about natural disasters, “we always hope that’s not going to be the worst-case scenario,” Kvols said.
This year’s spring floods at Granite Falls in Yellow Medicine County surpassed the expected water level coming from the Minnesota River. Still, he said, people were informed and that has helped them to handle the crisis.
“There is still a lot of ice melting and we will see water for at least one more week,” Kvols said. “There’s going to be a lot of cleaning over the next two months.”
The key to handling a crisis situation is to bring researchers and extension educators at the University together with the members of the community.
“That’s a challenge for us,” Fennelly said. “The needs of the community are very broad.”