Otter Tail County recently suffered extensive property damage and loss of life as a result of four tornadoes in a single day. As the county works to recover from this disaster, it is seeking to identify ways that it can continue to prepare for future tornadoes and other natural disasters.

The Otter Tail County Office of Emergency Management is working with U-Spatial at the University of Minnesota Duluth to update the county’s multi-hazard mitigation plan. The plan assesses the natural hazards that pose risk to the county, such as tornadoes, straight-line winds, ice storms, blizzards, wildfire, flooding, and extreme temperatures and identifies ways to minimize the damage of future events. As the county works to update the plan, it wants to hear from the public.

The Otter Tail County hazard plan is a multi-jurisdictional plan that covers Otter Tail County and the cities in the county. The plan additionally covers the portions of the cities of Rothsay and Wadena that are located within Otter Tail County. The Otter Tail County plan also incorporates the concerns and needs of townships, school districts, and other stakeholders participating in the plan. The plan will be updated by a planning team made up of representatives from county departments, local municipalities, school districts and other key stakeholders.

Examples of hazard mitigation include improvement of roads and culverts that experience repeated flooding; construction of tornado safe rooms at campgrounds, public parks, mobile home parks or schools; burying powerlines that may fail because of heavy snow, ice or wind storms; ensuring timely emergency communication to the public through warning sirens and mass notification systems, and conducting public awareness and education campaigns to help people to be prepared to take safe action before, during, or after a hazardous event. Some mitigation activities may be eligible for grant funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

As part of the planning process, Otter Tail County is seeking feedback from residents and businesses from across the county to incorporate into the plan:

• What are the natural hazards you feel pose the greatest risk to your community?

• Have you experienced a previous disaster event?

• What concerns do you have, and what sorts of mitigation actions or projects do you feel would help to reduce the damages of potential future events for your personal property, your community, or the county as a whole?

Comments, concerns, or questions regarding natural disasters and potential mitigation actions to be included in the plan update process should be submitted to Otter Tail County Emergency Management by phone at 218-998-8067 or by emailing Emergency Management Director Patrick Walerzko at pwaletzk@co.ottertail.mn.us.

Public comments may also be submitted on the Otter Tail County Facebook page where this news release will be posted.

There will be additional opportunities for public feedback throughout the planning process. A draft of the plan will be posted on the county website for public review prior to submission of the plan to the state of Minnesota.

“Hazard mitigation planning is a central part of our emergency management program,” Waletzko said in a news release. “Understanding the natural hazards that can cause serious impact to our communities and taking action to reduce or eliminate the impact of future disasters makes us more resilient. Hazard mitigation helps us to break the cycle of damage and repair caused by things like flooding, ice storms, and severe wind events that can damage property, stress economies, and threaten life safety in our county.”