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Agencies continue prepping for emergencies

WORTHINGTON -- Agencies across southwest Minnesota have gathered together in recent months to conduct table-top drills, build stronger relationships and develop a system of coordinated response in the event of a natural disaster or pandemic situation.

On Thursday, those agencies -- including law enforcement, public health, hospitals and emergency management -- came to the table again.

But instead of acting out a scenario to supply vaccine to essential personnel or identify the county's emergency response locations, participants this time learned how to deal with the press.

While movies and television shows often depict news reporters as being sneaky snakes or manipulative vultures, participants in the day-long Minnesota Emergency Readiness Education and Training (MERET)-sponsored risk communication workshop in Worthington realized the media can be one of their greatest resources in responding to an emergency situation.

Determining what information to release, who would release it and when and how that information would be presented to the media were all topics of discussion at the event.

Led by Cathy Clark, a former journalist who now serves as a planner for MnDOT's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the training offered tips on developing a working relationship with the media, handling media during a catastrophic event and how best to present information to the public.

The program was the final step before agencies carry out a full-fledged mock drill on an avian flu pandemic in mid-June.

"We need to know how to better communicate to the public," said Cathlene Hockert, public health preparedness consultant with the Minnesota Department of Health's district office in Marshall. She said part of Thursday's exercise was to encourage agencies to develop, nurture and maintain relationships with the media.

"We realize that the media is an outlet (to dispense) information," Hockert added.

In addition to learning what types of information media would request in the event of a disaster or pandemic situation, attendees also developed ideas for media response -- whether they decide to speak with reporters one-on-one or distribute standard news releases and conduct press conferences.

"It's better to learn those lessons while we're playing than when we're in the middle of a situation," Hockert said.

In addition to Clark's morning presentation, a media panel consisting of television, radio and newspaper reporters took part in a question-and-answer session.

"I think this type of training is important" said Nobles County Commissioner Diane Thier. "The reason we're doing (the training) is so we're prepared when the time comes."

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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