- Associated Press - Sunday, June 28, 2015

BROOKINGS, S.D. (AP) - While observing the aftermath of a tornado in the community of Delmont, the emergency manager of Brookings County picked up some lessons on how to deal with natural disasters.

The tornado struck the area May 10, damaging or destroying 84 structures in and around Delmont and injuring nine people. Bob Hill had a strictly observational role in the cleanup, but learned from seeing the emergency response firsthand, The Brookings Register (http://bit.ly/1Nlq1Be ) reported.

“If you don’t prepare, you won’t be ready when it does hit,” Hill said.

A multiagency resource center was opened within three days to serve as a one-stop location for residents to find help.

Hill found out that officials waited about five days after the tornado to begin cleanup so residents could sort through debris and have closure. This also gave residents time to grieve, he said.

If it were your house destroyed, “would you want someone coming in and just throwing all your stuff away or would you like to have time to go through it and get your family pictures and stuff like that out?” Hill asked.

A new credentialing system caught Hill’s attention, with different colors assigned to homeowners, volunteers and officials. The system seemed to work well, he said.

Hill believes that his own emergency management region is well prepared after witnessing a system play out. One of the most important tools in his arsenal is a command trailer, equipped with a generator and radio system.

“It’s designed for us to operate just like an office out in the field,” Hill said.

He also has been stocking small towns in his region with sandbags, hazmat kits and other gear.

Hill is required to hold practice exercises on a regular basis, as well as at least one full-size exercise each year. He said the goal of the exercises is to uncover deficiencies in a management plan that need to be improved upon.

“No one’s ever going to be prepared for every natural disaster,” Hill said. “But I feel that the county commission supports the emergency management program, and we’re doing the best we can for our citizens.”

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Information from: Brookings Register, http://www.brookingsregister.com/

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