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Wadena County dispatchers honored for tornado response

Photo provided Wadena County Sheriff's Office dispatchers received the award of Making A Difference in recognition of their dedication and service to public safety during the June 17, 2010 tornado. This award was given to them from the Minnesota Sheriff's Association. Shown receiving the award at Arrowwood Resort in Alexandria are (from left) Sheriff Mike Carr, Dispatcher Jennifer Palm, Dispatcher Kelly Haugen and Dispatcher Sharon Blair.

Dispatchers with the Wadena County Sheriff's Office were honored by the Minnesota Sheriff's Association with the Making a Difference award for their service during the aftermath of the Wadena-area June 17, 2010 tornadoes.

After the tornadoes struck the Wadena and Bluffton/Deer Creek areas, the Wadena County Communications Center maintained control and reacted appropriately with each phone call that was received, a nomination letter said. The communications officers faced many obstacles immediately after the tornado hit. Cell phone lines went down which made communication very difficult, as well as the phone lines being overwhelmed with emergency calls. With limited radio channels and cell phones not working, it was difficult to communicate with any emergency personnel. The communication officers excelled to maintain communication at all times with officers and dispatch law enforcement, ambulances and fire departments to needed areas.

All staff was contacted and responded immediately to assist with communications and setting up additional Emergency Operations Centers throughout the city of Wadena. Communication officers worked shifts throughout the different EOCs around the clock. There were EOCs designated for Law enforcement calls, fire calls and medical calls. There was also an EOC assigned strictly for volunteer services where dispatchers staffed phone and radio lines to assist people in need. These shifts in the Communications Center and the separate EOCs were endured for two weeks after the tornado hit. The following staff worked during this incident: Tom Speed, Shannon Nielson, Sharon Blair, Erika Penner, Jenifer Palm, Becky Wilhelmi, Amie Bergquist, Kelly Haugen, Dennis Martin, Tom Aagard, Harry Johnson, Keith Waaraniemi, Jean Birch and Martha Dahlvang.

The Wadena County Communications Center excelled above and beyond the scope of their duty to serve their community, Sheriff Mike Carr said. It was their efforts and the astonishing work that saved the lives and properties of individuals in need, he added.