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Published May 27 2012

Cass, Clay prepare vulnerable population registries in case of emergency

MOORHEAD – With tornado season here, public health officials are trying to identify people who might need the most help in the case of severe weather and other emergencies.

Both Cass and Clay counties created vulnerable population registries two years ago for those at risk, such as people with disabilities or social challenges, elderly and the homeless.

County officials say they were spurred to create the registries by the 2009 flood, when they realized many at-risk populations would need help to evacuate.

Kristina Hansen, the emergency preparedness coordinator for Clay County Public Health, said not knowing who these people were or where they lived made it difficult for responders to get them out.

“Maybe we didn’t have enough equipment to move people out, if they had special needs,” she said. “This put a lot of stress on everybody involved.”

Cass County, too, realized there were people who needed to be evacuated that officials didn’t know about, said Desi Fleming, the director of nursing at Fargo Cass Public Health.

“There were vulnerable people out in their homes that might have trouble getting out in the event of an emergency,” she said.

Clay County has registered approximately 300 people from throughout the county designated as vulnerable, while Cass County’s list stands around 130.

Both Hansen and Fleming say the registry helps counties be more prepared.

“We now have the proper equipment and are able to transfer (the person) to a proper facility or shelter that would be effective to meet their needs,” Hansen said.

How the list would be used for evacuation purposes, and the personnel involved in the process, would depend on the severity of the disaster, Fleming said.

For example, in the case of a sudden emergency, firefighters, police and other first responders would work to get people out.

In a more planned evacuation, efforts would be coordinated through a county’s emergency operations center, involving nurses and social workers along with first responders.

Neither county has had to use the list since the registries began, but Hansen said it’s still important to be ready just in case, especially with the potential for unpredictable and severe summer weather.

Once a person has registered, both Hansen and Fleming stressed the importance of keeping information updated and accurate to aid responders.

“We want to know where our vulnerable population is at so we can assist them as best as possible,” Hansen said.

Vulnerable population registries

To register in Clay County, visit http://www.co.clay.mn.us/ or call (218)299-5220.

To register in Cass County, call (701) 241-1360 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535