Q & A with the ChiefPolice receive more than twice the usual number of emergency calls the night of the heavy rain
By: Gordon Ramsay, Duluth Budgeteet News
Editor’s note: I live near the sinkhole at Skyline Parkway and 9th Avenue East that a car fell into the night of the torrential rains — Tuesday, June 19th. I was one of the many people who phoned the emergency number, 911, that night. The first time I phoned I got a busy signal. I knew everyone in my situation was okay, but as I was also reading the Facebook statuses of my friends I saw that disaster was all over the city. This made me curious about how many calls the police actually received that night, so in lieu of Chief Gordon Ramsay’s column we are having a question-and-answer form of an article.
Q. Did you experience a large number of police calls on Tuesday night?
A. We received 215 calls for service from 10 p.m. on Tuesday the 19th until 10 a.m. on Wednesday the 20th. This is about three to four times the calls that we usually receive during this time period. [Receiving] 100 calls during this time would be very busy. We were actively assisting with rescues in Fond-du-lac and various other locations, assisting with lost and endangered animals at the zoo, assisting with stuck vehicles, blocking roadways, and still answering routine calls like fights, alarms, domestic disturbances, etc. I-35, Woodland Avenue, Hwy 23, both entrances to Morgan Park and many other roadways were flooded and blocked. Officers were also having a difficult time navigating most roads, as many were blocked by water and debris.
Q. What is the police’s role in times of natural disaster?
A. We assist in any way we can. Our first priority is preservation of life. Evacuations and assisting those in danger were priority number one. Second priority is preventing others from being placed in danger. I know that most of Tuesday night, and into the day Wednesday, we were still primarily operating at a priority one level.
Q. Whose job is it to set up barriers and direct traffic when roads give out?
A. Street Maintenance and Utilities share this responsibility, depending on what the hazard it. If you drove around the city Wednesday, you would have seen there were more hazards than we had signs and barricades for. During a major natural disaster such as this, it is very difficult to get to every hazard, so hazards are generally prioritized in severity and danger level. Most people used common sense and avoided hazards and roadways in dangerous areas. Overwhelmingly, most people were using good judgment in how and where they drove. We began putting out media advisories before midnight Tuesday that people should avoid driving on city streets.
Q. How does the police prioritize where they should respond first, and who can wait a little longer on a night like Tuesday night?
A. Preservation of life is priority one. Everything else comes after that. We were operating in priority one from Tuesday night through a good portion of Wednesday.
Q. What role did the police play in locating zoo animals?
A. We assisted in rounding up “Feisty” the seal, as well as a polar bear. We had received information there also was a lion loose. As officers began to develop a strategy for finding and subduing a loose lion, they thought they might be seeing it right in front of them from the backside. Luckily, when the animal turned its face around to look at the officers, everyone noticed that it was a Shetland pony. So, a humorous story did come out of a truly tragic and difficult day.
We had a few officers assisting animals and zoo staff for some time that night. It really is a tragedy to see what happened there. Zoo staff are so dedicated; it is just a shame.
Q. In some areas of the country, people worry about looting in times of natural disasters. Was, or is, that a concern in Duluth? Why or why not?
A. We are always concerned about looting with events like this. We adjust our patrol operations with this in mind, but it is not possible for us to be everywhere at once. The best defenses are a security system of some type, neighborhood watch, or citizen patrol. Neighbors need to look out for one another especially during times like this. People should call 911 if they see suspicious activity in their neighborhood.