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Stevens County serves as leader in developing infrastructure database

When a disaster strikes, first responders need to gather information quickly to help make decisions about how to proceed.

Over the next six months, the Stevens County Sheriff's Office and the Office of Emergency Management will be working to gather this key information to develop a database to assist emergency responders in disaster situations in Stevens County.

And the work being done in Stevens County will help serve as a model for other counties across the state.

The Department of Homeland Security has identified five lifeline sectors or essential services - energy, water, communications, transportation, and emergency services - that serve as "the fabric that holds a community up in a disaster" explained Grant Hosmer, critical infrastructure coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

About 85 percent of the critical infrastructure in the state is controlled by private business, which means it is important for all sectors to believe in the process and invest in risk management practices, said Hosmer.

The project seeks to collect data from these resources within the county, identify areas where these lifeline sectors are vulnerable and develop an action plan for how to respond if any of these sectors are compromised.

"We rely heavily on the information and support of our private sector partners as we develop response and recovery plans for our communities," said Stevens County Sheriff Jason Dingman. "By collaborating with local asset owners and operators, we will be better able to protect the services we rely on."

Over the next six months, an assessment team of about 10 individuals will be visiting local businesses that are part of the five lifeline sectors to complete a Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) and share information about developing a risk management plan based on the National Infrastructure Protection Plan developed by the Department of Homeland Security.

The assessment team includes members of the National Guard, West Central Environmental Consultants, Stevens County Ambulance, the University of Minnesota, Morris, the Morris and Hancock Police Departments, and the Sheriff's Office.

The goal, said Emergency Management Director Dona Greiner, is to complete 80 site assessments across Stevens County by the end of June so the program will be ready for a tornado exercise planned in June.

Information gathered in the assessments will be entered into the Department of Homeland Security's Automated Critical Asset Management System (ACAMS) so it can be used by emergency responders. The Stevens County Sheriff's Office currently has two dispatchers trained to enter the assessment data into the system to help build the local database.

"We're doing a lot of data entry to build the ACAMS base so we have something to work off of after we get into doing the physical assessments," said Dingman.

Dingman said this process will be especially helpful in emergencies, as deputies and other first responders will be able to pull up floor plans and other data right in their squad cars.

"It's nice to know as much ahead of time as we can, rather than trying to scramble to get information while you're responding to whatever incident it is," said Dingman.

A larger goal, said Hosmer, is to bring people together who know about these sectors and build trust between public and private entities because everyone has a stake in these services when they aren't working.

Hosmer emphasized that all of the information collected will be protected data that is protected from public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act and other state and local disclosure laws.

While representatives from the Department of Homeland Security will help facilitate this process, it will be largely led by staff and officials in Stevens County.

Stevens County is one of a handful of counties helping pilot the project and will be working with the State of Minnesota to determine best practices thanks to the leadership of local law enforcement and other public officials, said Hosmer.

"We appreciate counties that are proactive," said Hosmer. "It's fun to meet people who care about the day after the disaster - to come back [after a disaster] takes a plan."