EMS and severe weather

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On May 12, our first taste of spring was interrupted by a barrage of severe weather. Major news sources reported a string of storms across the western part of Minnesota, generating high winds and even tornados. The City of Wadena is no stranger to storms of this nature after being hit by a tornado in 2010. This experience leaves many with looming anxiety whenever the thunderheads roll in. The severe weather downed many trees.In the end, we have no mystical control over the weather. However, we do control how we recover from it. The people of the Wadena area don’t live in fear of nature. We accept it and band together to overcome it. Emergency Medical Services (EMS) week is here, and what better way to celebrate than by taking a look at how EMS and severe weather can change your life in an instant.


EMS staff are responsible for the safety of patients and staff within Tri-County Health Care. This responsibility requires constant vigilance. In addition to situational awareness, they use a series of alert systems to get immediate notifications of incoming severe weather. Emergency Management Coordinator Tom Krueger always has his eyes on the sky and his radio handy. He is always in communication with the Central Minnesota Hospital Preparedness Coalition, a relationship that allows for a safer, better healthcare system.

Seeking shelter

The storm eventually passed, and the sun rose once again. The pleasant spring weather illuminated avenues of downed trees and mounds of insulation tossing in the wind. The storm passed, but it left its mark. Some buildings appeared to have their roofs cleaved off, leaving a disfigured maw of shingles and lumber. Hours earlier, the sky turned a pungent grey, followed by wind. EMS jumped into action to minimize hazards. They initiated storm safety procedures which involved EMS staff systematically informing patients and staff of the incoming storm. Then, the crew assisted in moving patients to the appropriate pre-designated shelter zones.

More than a few buildings received roof damage that stormy night. Krueger was asked what would happen if the storm damaged the roof of the hospital or clinic. What would we do?

“Staff and patients will hopefully be in a “Shelter-In-Place” mode and will have been evacuated to either the tunnel or Post-Anesthesia Recovery unit (safe interior space). In the event of a “direct strike”, there is a plan for setting up an Alternate Care Site in the community to continue to care for our patients in the short-term. We would also rely on mutual aid with our CMHPC coalition partner facilities to assist in a disaster of this type for both hospital and EMS services.” – Thomas Krueger, Emergency Management Coordinator

EMS and severe weather.

EMS tips for a safe clean up

  • Wear the appropriate clothes. Avoid scrapes and bruises by wearing long-sleeved garments and jeans. Boots, gloves, and a hat are also highly recommended.
  • Be safe with power tools. Some people tend to ignore basic safety in the aftermath of a disaster. Don’t be one of those people. Use proper eye protection if you plan on clearing trees.
  • Storms that generate high winds can make a huge mess. They can even damage power lines and dislodge nails. Situational awareness is critical. Tread carefully and if you see a downed power line, do not approach it; instead, notify the local power authority.
  • Stay hydrated! You need water to function, so keep a water bottle nearby.

EMS deal with severe weather all the time!

EMS and severe weather are here to stay, so remember to watch for bad storms this summer and beyond. Also, take some time to thank the men and women of EMS for all they do in our communities. Please visit TCHC.org and follow Tri-County Health Care on social media for more information.

Do you know how to prepare for severe weather?

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You may be aware of the forecast for the next couple of days – in fact, the storm may have already begun – and we may be in for more snow … a lot of it. This is appropriate timing considering this week, April 8-12, is Severe Weather Awareness Week.

Cars in winter. Cars in the parking lot under the snowy, severe weather.Every year, Homeland Security and Emergency Management joins together with the National Weather Service and 16 Minnesota organizations and agencies to sponsor this week. The purpose is to educate everyone about the dangers of severe seasonal weather and how to be prepared. Every day of the week is focused on a different topic:

Monday – Alerts and Warnings

Tuesday – Severe Weather, Lightning and Hail

Wednesday – Floods

Thursday – Tornadoes


Understanding weather alerts

One of the most important things about severe weather is knowing how to stay up to date on developing conditions and knowing what all of those alerts and warnings mean. Because let’s face it. They can be confusing.

When severe weather starts heading our way, you might notice the National Weather Service using words and phrases such as “winter weather advisory” or “tornado watch” or “storm warning.” But what do these really mean?

Advisory: Advisories are typically issued for less severe conditions but that could still be dangerous or cause damage to property if people aren’t cautious. Advisories can be issued when an event is happening, about to happen, or is likely to happen.

Watch: This means that weather conditions are right for dangerous weather to happen but that hasn’t happened yet. A good way to remember it is that you should “be on the watch” for dangerous weather and be ready for it to happen. Sometimes, severe weather can develop so fast that a warning can’t be issued in time.Caution sign in severe weather.

Warning: When a warning is issued, it means that severe weather is currently happening or is just about to happen. Essentially, if you see that a weather warning has been issued, you should find shelter as soon as you can.


Smartphones could be lifesavers

Most people these days rely heavily on their smartphones, but did you know that it has the potential to keep you updated on lifesaving weather alerts?

First, there are many apps that cover a wide range of topics including first aid, pet first aid, wildfires, Morse code, floods, tornadoes, shelter finders, winter survival and more. Simply go to your app store and type in key words such as “weather” or “emergencies.” Many of them are free, giving you convenient access to these important resources!

Along with apps, you can sign up with the National Weather Service or your other favorite media outlets across Minnesota to receive electronic weather alerts in the form of emails, texts or RSS feeds. These can include information such as local weather reports like watches and warnings.

Another method of notification is through Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). Emergency officials have the ability to send these directly to all phones that are within a specified range of a chosen cell tower.

A powerful thunderstorm producing severe weather with a tornado and lightning.The three types of WEAs include:

Presidential Alert — If there is a national emergency, the President of the United States will send out this alert. As of yet, no president has had to issue this alert.

Imminent Threat Alert — This alert is typically issued by the National Weather Service and includes warnings for tornadoes, flash floods and blizzards. It will include the type of alert (advisory, watch or warning), the affected area, and the how long it will last.

Amber Alert — The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension sends out this alert that gives information about a child abduction.

You can receive a WEA as a text or on your home screen, and it has its own unique ringtone. It’s important to know that you will never be charged for these messages, and they will not interrupt any calls or downloads that you have in progress.

Though anyone is welcome to opt out of WEAs through their wireless carrier, the National Weather Service strongly encourages you not to, as the messages could potentially be lifesaving.


For more information on how to be prepared for severe weather, take a look at this fact sheet by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

Eight do’s and don’ts of tornado safety

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By: Mike Ittner, NR, Paramedic, TCHC Emergency Preparedness Coordinator

Summer. What a wonderful time of the year! Grass and flowers are growing, and the Minnesota state bird, the mosquito, is back in full force. Not only that but summer brings about the Minnesota tornado season.

This season runs from early spring well into fall, as warm moisture comes in from the Gulf of Mexico and clashes with colder, drier air. The only months during which a tornado has never touched down in Minnesota are December, January and February. tornado warning sign

To recognize a tornado, FEMA suggests looking for these danger signs:

  • Dark, greenish sky
  • Large hail
  • A large, low-lying cloud, particularly if rotating
  • Loud roar, similar to a freight train

If you find yourself caught in a tornado emergency, follow these do’s and don’ts so that you will know how to react calmly and stay safe in each situation.


  1. House – with basement

DO: Get to the basement and shield yourself with sturdy protection such as a heavy table or work bench, or use a mattress or blankets.

DON’T: Sit in the basement where heavy objects like a piano or refrigerator rest on the floor above. They could fall through the floor if it’s weakened by the storm.


  1. House – without basement

DO: Go to a stairwell or interior hallway without windows and crouch as low as possible. Cover yourself with a mattress or blankets.

DON’T: Stand near windows or other glass objects.


  1. Mobile home

DO: Get out as quickly as possible and find a shelter or lie flat on low ground away from trees and cars, protecting your head.

DON’T: Stay in the mobile home, even if it is tied down, as most tornadoes can destroy mobile homes that are tied down.


  1. Apartment, dorm or condo

DO: Go to the lowest level and move away from windows. In a high-rise building, find a hallway or stairwell in the center of the building.

DON’T: Take shelter in an elevator. Power may be lost, trapping you inside.


  1. Office building or storestorm with tornado

DO: Be conscientious of others and take cover in a windowless, enclosed area in the middle of the building.

DON’T: Ignore the instructions of facility managers.


  1. School

DO: Follow the drill and follow instructions given to you by faculty. Go to an interior hall or room. Crouch, put your head down and protect your head with your arms.

DON’T: Take shelter in large, spacious rooms such as gyms or auditoriums.


  1. Car or truck

DO: Drive away from the tornado at a right angle if it is far away and if traffic is light. Otherwise, park, get out and find shelter in a building or by lying flat on low ground.

DON’T: Seek shelter under a bridge. It offers little protection from flying debris and can accelerate wind speed.


  1. Outdoors

DO: Find shelter in a building. If that’s not possible, lie flat on low ground and protect your head with your arms.

DON’T: Take shelter under a bridge or near trees or cars. A tornado can blow them onto you.



Source: Minnesota Department of Public Safety