Lessons learned in Northwood

NORTHWOOD, Iowa – They say hindsight is 20/20 — and city leaders in Northwood are taking advantage of it.

A chemical fire last month forced the evacuation of the entire town. Now, they want to learn from that experience. This week, the city council held a workshop to take a deeper look at what went right, but more importantly, what they can improve on.

Imagine being the leader of a town and getting the call Jane Bloomingdale did last month: a building containing chemicals is on fire.

You would have to think quickly and rely on your town’s current emergency plans to get everyone to safety.

Fortunately the evacuation in Northwood went smoothly, but there is always room for improvement.

“We’ll go over their emergency plan with a fine tooth comb. Every time you have an emergency plan, it needs to be fitted to that particular city or county. There isn’t one that works for everybody,” said Ray Huftalin, Worth County Emergency Services Coordinator.

Communication is the biggest thing when it comes to emergencies. The town sent out a message through the emergency alert system telling residents to evacuate, but they would have liked to give people more information on what to expect. For example, some people didn’t bring their pets or medications, because they didn’t know they may have been out of their homes for several days. Others weren’t exactly sure where they were supposed to go.

“The most important thing for us to update our emergency plan right now is our communication. Some of our population, when they’re told to evacuate they’re like okay we’ll be gone an hour not knowing it might have been a day or two,” said Bloomingdale.

Fortunately they town was only evacuated for hours, not days, before the air test came back all clear. The city council is also looking at a system to improve communication from homeowners, having people put something on their doors to indicate that they are safe, or that they have evacuated. This would save time on door-to-door checks.

Overall, the mayor believes, when that emergency call came, the town reacted the best it could.

“I think it went really well. The people in this community were just fabulous and as I said, all our departments really came together and I was just honored to be a part of it,” she said.

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