Event to discuss local disaster preparedness

Elizabeth Cook

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, many people wonder what the government’s role is in emergency preparedness, and what they can do.

“Community and Catastrophe: Building the Best While Preparing for the Worst” is being presented by the Citizens League, The Onion newspaper and 89.3 The Current radio station Monday night at the Varsity Theater in Dinkytown.

United Way President and CEO Lauren Segal and Dan Johnson, executive director of Homeland Security for Minnesota, will speak at the event.

Steve Nelson, program director for The Current, said the presentation is meant “to get people together to talk about important issues in a casual setting.”

This presentation is part of the Policy and Pint series. Approximately 200 people showed up for the last presentation, which dealt with picking a U.S. Supreme Court justice.

This is meant to be interactive, said Sean Kershaw, executive director of the Citizens League, a nonprofit citizen-based organization that deals with public policy.

It’s supposed to be informational without being boring, he said. Each person is going to talk for 10 minutes, and then it’s open to discussion.

The event will focus on what the Twin Cities and real people can do to prepare for disaster, Kershaw said.

Mary Walker, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency said the government has many roles in emergency preparedness.

They give support training for first responders, provide grants for equipment and oversee exercises dealing with different disaster scenarios, Walker said.

The government is encouraging citizens to adopt the National Incident Management System, she said. It’s a plan for first responders to work together more efficiently.

Barb Fonkert, the natural disaster planner for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, a division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said Minnesota has to be prepared for a variety of natural disasters, such as tornadoes and floods.

But the agency also has plans for airplane crashes, chemical spills, emergencies at power plants and acts of terrorism that could cause problems involving biological agents and viruses.

Fonkert said if there is time to react when a “bad thing” is about to happen, the government will issue warnings over the radio and there will be warning sirens.

No matter what kind of emergency, the plan is always the same, but the resources are different.

A warning goes out, there is a response to the warning and then government resources are deployed, Fonkert said.

Jacqui Getty, a public relations manager at the Greater Twin Cities United Way, said Lauren Segal will be talking about the ways volunteers can coordinate their efforts.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, “We took about 20,000 calls from people who wanted to help,” Getty said.

This is an opportunity to talk about what was done last time and what to do next time to make the efforts even better, Getty said.

Getty encouraged students to participate in the presentation.

Students can always help, Getty said.

Getty said she understands college students don’t always have the money to donate to relief efforts.

“(The) next best gift is the gift of time,” Getty said. “If you look for volunteer opportunities, they’re always there.”

At the event, doors open at 5:30 p.m. and students get in for $5, all other tickets are $10.