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Kevin Bonham, Forum News Service, Published March 19 2013

Grand Forks County sheriff: Even rescuers get stuck in blizzards

GRAND FORKS - Why don’t people just stay at home during blizzards?

That’s what Grand Forks County Sheriff Bob Rost wants to know, especially after his deputies responded to nearly a half-dozen calls about stranded motorists in rural areas during Blizzard Fiona on Monday

To illustrate his point, the sheriff emailed a photo to the Grand Forks Herald on Tuesday showing one of the department’s SUVs stuck in the snow just south of Grand Forks.

Deputy Nicole Dvorak was driving the vehicle Monday, responding to a call for assistance at about 11 a.m. from the driver of a vehicle that had become stuck in the middle of the road at the 900 block of 11th Street Northeast, an extension of South Columbia Road.

“This is what happens when we go out and rescue people who won’t stay home,” Rost said. “She did get to the motorist, but a tow truck had to pull her out, too.”

The North Dakota Department of Transportation had issued a “no-travel” advisory about three hours earlier.

In another incident Monday, a rural mail carrier got stuck on a rural road near Kelly’s Slough National Wildlife Refuge west of Grand Forks.

“He was driving a little car,” Rost said. “He was so far in we had to have a plow come in to get to him.”

Neither driver was cited for traffic violations, because the roads officially were not closed, the sheriff said. However, the towing companies charged fees to the drivers.

“People just need to use some common sense,” he said. “When they try to travel in this kind of weather, they jeopardize their lives and the lives of others.”

Rost’s email plea is just a sample of the information revolution in law enforcement. Some agencies have taken it to another level.

The North Dakota Highway Patrol and other agencies have Facebook pages where they post photographs, notices and messages alerting drivers to hazardous road conditions, as well as results of saturation enforcement of laws against driving under the influence.

The Minnesota State Patrol uses Facebook and YouTube. It also allows troopers to use Twitter accounts to communicate with the public.

Sgt. Jesse Grabow, State Patrol public information officer for west central and northwest Minnesota, often is seen or heard on local television or radio stations. And he’s had a Twitter account for about a year.

“It’s instant,” he said of Twitter. “If there’s a fatal crash, we can post it immediately and it’ll be updated as we get more information. Twitter’s helped with getting that kind of information out. It’s just another way to streamline that whole process.”

One of his tweets Tuesday noted six vehicle crashes in the Thief River Falls district Monday, including two rollovers with no injuries; and 29 crashes in the Detroit Lakes district, including 20 rollovers.

Others carry warnings, such as this one last week: “I94 near Barnesville (exit24) rollover – no inj. Driver going way 2 fast 4 obvious poor conditions. Slow down!”

Although Grabow is one of just a handful of troopers currently on Twitter, he expects the number to grow.

“The public reaction has been good,” he said, noting that he has more than 1,000 followers on his Twitter account. “A lot of my information is being re-tweeted, too. It’s a valuable media tool.”