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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Ranger-Review file photo

Emergency system test is Tuesday in preparation for river event

By Chad Knudson

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

With a potentially difficult river break-up coming sometime in the near future, county emergency services will be testing their mass notification system.

Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator Mary Jo Gehnert said a system-wide test will be conducted Tuesday, March 13. Anyone who has not already signed up is encouraged to do so before the test.

“In light of the upcoming threat of flood season we are encouraging people to get signed up,” she said. “There are about 9,200 people in the county and we only have about 1,300 signed up.”

The mass notification system has been in place for about two years and has some great technical capabilities.

Enrollees may opt to receive notifications by email, text, voice call, or any combination of the three.

“If there is an emergent situation, through dispatch we have the mapping capabilities to select the specific area of concern and only those people will be notified,” Gehnert said.

Glendive Medical Center can use the system to provide a notification just to hospital staff if, for example, they needed to call in employees to cope with an emergency.

Gehnert also points out the mass notification system doesn’t work like weather alerts.

“We don’t send messages unless it is a test or the real deal,” she said. “We are focused on emergent situations, and we will test periodically.”

When the call does come, Gehnert warns participants they may be tempted to think it is a scam or telemarketing call. 

“The caller ID will be a 377 prefix, but may look different or odd. It may be 377-0000 or something like that,” she said. “We encourage people to take the call and stay on the line.”

Of course, none of the technological capabilities do much good if people aren’t signed up to receive the messages.

Gehnert said sign-up is quick and easily done on the county’s website, dawsoncountymontana.com. There is a link in the green box in the lower left corner of the home screen. 

Creating an account requires a name, email address and phone number. Those without Internet access or an email address are encouraged to call Gehnert at 377-2566.

Watching the river

As for the Yellowstone, Gehnert said she is waiting and wondering like everybody else.

“I’ve had reports from ice fisherman that the ice is 18”-32” thick,” she said. “On the other hand the snow is an insulator and so it slows ice formation.”

The large amount of snow on the ground as nearby as Miles City could create its own problems.

“We might see low-land flooding with just the runoff,” she said. 

Conditions are precarious enough that Gehnert is encouraging people with equipment or livestock in low-lying areas to be proactive and move to safer ground before an incident. 

She also wants people upstream to let her know immediately if they see signs of movement or disruption in the ice. 

Whether or not this unusually cold, snowy winter causes worse jamming and flooding than normal is yet to be seen, but it does look like when the river does go out, it will be later than normal.

“Average ice out days are March 11-14. I don’t know that we are going to make that this year,” Gehnert said. “Normally the push comes from upstream, but our ice has to soften up a little too.”


Reach Chad Knudson at

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