The last few days have been overwhelming for many in Duluth. After a brief, but vicious storm our city experienced damage that rivals others in recent history. After the skies cleared and damages were accessed, the city, residents, and utilities went to work to get us up and running again.

The city acted by clearning roads and setting up cooling stations around Duluth, including the DECC. Minnesota Power held a press conference, called in additional linemen and trucks and attempted to keep us updated through Facebook and their Outage Map. But, as days went by without power, in sweltering heat, emotions started to rise – concern, frustration, and at times anger – crept into the dialogue of how Duluth was handling this crisis. At this time, nearly 3,500 customers are still without power, and may be for 4 more days.

Lack of communication and updates has been the biggest complaint. While everyone appreciates the hard work that the linemen are doing, living in the dark, literally, and figuratively in terms of knowing when to expect power, has taken a toll. The situation has been an eye-opener for Duluth, and hopefully one that can be used to make improvements before the next natural disaster strikes.

I want to start the discussion, and ask our city leaders – and the corporate leaders that run our utilities, to come together and build a more strategic plan to disperse information and assistance to Duluth residents.

The Mayor made many facebook posts in regards to the events following the storm, but not everyone had access to facebook, or even the internet. I didn’t see any updates from our city councilors, with the exception of a 10AM July 21st post by Em Westerlund sharing what the Mayor had discussed, and Noah Hobbs passing on an FYI to conserve water. Other councilors had time to post about bands, and breweries, complain about cell service, and other personal things, but nothing storm related. They showed an incredible lack of compassion for those that were impacted, and absolutely no effort in being part of the solution during many of our resident’s time of need.

While no disaster or emergency plan can take into account everything that can happen, Duluth can do a better job if this happens again – and it requires some effort by our elected officials and local utilities. I hope they consider these suggestions:

Most communities have a community center, park, or other city owned structure/building that could be used as “home-base” for those neighborhoods. The city staff and elected officials should open these during disasters to provide a space for locals to share and receive news, offer help or receive help from neighbors, and they would make good drop areas for help from organizations like the Red Cross and Salvation Army. Some residents could not get to their vehicles or aren’t physically able to leave their homes and travel to the DECC for water and relief.

Residents who have less damage or have already dug out, could post their name, number, address and how they can help, so those needing help can find them. For example if one person is handy with a chainsaw and willing to help, a neighbor could track them down and ask for a hand. A list of vulnerable adults or families could be posted and monitored to make sure they were being checked on and receiving the help they need. Those that can’t clear the damage could volunteer to check on these folks.

The local media could do a better job of sharing information. It was days before news was showing up on social media. TV crews could have used cell phones to record and share updates to their station’s Facebook pages immediately, and throughout the days they were offline.

Minnesota Power could improve their Outage App/Map to include a place to view press releases, instructions on what homeowners should do, and advertise when they will be making their bigger daily announcements about progress so people don’t get frustrated checking the app mulitple times each day and finding the same information, unchanged. They should also make that information easy to discover in the app and website.. Minnesota Power could also create an alert system where people could register for text or recorded phone message updates on progress for their area. The alert could let them know if they should have power back, and if they don’t, who and where to call, providing useful information for the crews on the scene.

Each weather related disaster will teach us new ways to be prepared – let’s take our experiences from this storm, and use them to make improvements for the next time.

Photo credit: Minnesota Power Facebook Page