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M State Serves in Moorhead's Time of Need

As she gestures toward the empty expanse of parking lot and explains that the trucks were lines up here, sand was piled there… it’s not a far stretch to imagine Dr. Ann Valentine directing the traffic of hundreds of volunteers, Bobcats and dump trucks. Valentine is the president of Minnesota State Community and Technical College (M State) which this spring was the site of one of the biggest flood fighting efforts Moorhead has ever seen.

“This campus was to Moorhead as the FARGODOME was to Fargo,” says Valentine. “We filled 650,000 sandbags at this site, conservatively.”

According to M State’s Provost Jerry Migler, the impetus for the college’s involvement was its partnership with Bobcat Company, which has developed a sandbagging attachment for their skid steers. M State’s diesel program was in possession of the attachments and offered their use to the City as it began calling for sandbags.

“In a typical year, the City of Moorhead’s plan [to fight flood waters] is to take sand into neighborhoods and start sandbagging sites,” says Migler. “Our first call to the city was to offer the use of our Bobcats and space in our parking lot to do the sandbagging. Given the river forecasts, they took us up on the offer. It started small scale but as the predictions got worse, it picked up speed.”

The team at M State knew it was big when Moorhead Chief of Police David Ebinger asked them to operate the site 24-hours a day. At that point, sandbagging at M State became a city operation run by the faculty of the college.

In days, M State officials went from directing a few dump trucks of sand into their lot, to seeing queues of trucks and a constant flow of sand and people. Trish Schrom, Dean of Academic Affairs, coordinated the intake of volunteers.

“At any one time, we had between three and five hundred people rotating in and out,” says Schrom. “It took on a life of its own.”

Moorhead City Manager Michael Redlinger says M State played a key role in the flood fight.

“They were a fantastic partner,” said Redlinger. “The college became a sand bagging center for the entire city, as there was no other centralized operation. Everyone, including the students, faculty and staff, and the leadership of the college was out in full force assisting residents. They opened up their facility, operations and equipment to us. Their valuable relationships to business and industry made it all possible.”

As a community and technical college, M State is uniquely positioned to provide all the elements a community needs to survive a disaster. The Culinary Arts Department was vital to keeping the volunteers fed and handling generous donations from local restaurants. Nursing students assisted in evacuations of nursing homes and the nursing lab had medical equipment at the ready and beds for overnight volunteers. The IT Department provided a continuous flow of information through Web updates and kept the college’s infrastructure operational.

Key M State staff coordinated and ran the entire operation. The site became a check-in place for fire fighters from around the state. Sixteen hour days were not unusual.

“The weather was bad everywhere in the region,” says Valentine. “As we could, we called in people from other campuses to help. We have emergency operations plans in place in case the campus is in trouble. What we did was above and beyond the emergency plan for the campus. It was really a city operation.

“I remember calling our emergency operations and saying we’re tired - we’re school teachers! At one point, the police pulled out because the police station was being evacuated. There was an emergency mentality throughout the city and it was kind of ugly. I am really proud of what the people here did.”

What people did was build, coordinate and operate a sandbagging site which helped saved the City of Moorhead and allowed city officials to concentrate their efforts on other areas of immediate need.

“We have a lot of people on campus who just do when something needs to get done. That spirit took over,” says Shawn Anderson, Dean of Student Services. “Nobody at the campus said I can’t, I won’t, or this isn’t what we do. The only people that weren’t here helping were those saving or being evacuated from their own homes. People can learn really fast when there’s a crisis and they want to be part of a solution.”

 “Everyone used their expertise,” adds Migler. “When a volunteer’s truck broke down, our automotive instructor diagnosed and fixed the problem. It was fun to see what you knew could happen: people doing everything they could, doing the best they could, and not really expecting anything for doing it. There were feet on the ground from all ranks and walks of life.”

Migler feels M State’s proximity to I-94 and main roads in Moorhead makes it a logical resource for the city as it plans for future disasters. Add the fact that M State wants to be a good citizen of its community.

“We are a different breed of cat than other higher education institutions,” says Valentine. “In addition to a substantial amount of college transfer work in traditional liberal arts and sciences, we have faculty who know how to run a skid steer. We have faculty who know how to provide health care. We’re a community college and that really means something. It’s community service and community collaboration. That’s why we were successful in getting help from area businesses, because we serve them and provide employees for them.”

When the flood emergency passed, the team put everything back together and brought the college up to full operation with no downtime. As the team shares their stories, it’s obvious they’ve lived through something cathartic.

“I remember these hallways filled with people trying to catch their breath with trays of food flying by,” says Anderson. “It was a well-orchestrated dance. You need food, toilets, sand, sandbags and people. After that you figure it out. It just happens.”

M State Quick Takes

* The Moorhead campus is the largest of four within the Minnesota State Community and Technical College family, with a student population of close to 3,100, making it the third largest higher education institution in Fargo Moorhead.
* During the flood fight, M State filled over 650,000 sandbags, with 5,000 volunteers participating.
* At one point, there were over 500 volunteers working on the campus site.
* M State estimates over 20,000 volunteer hours were spent on the sandbagging operation.
* With its mission change in 2003, the Moorhead campus is now a comprehensive two-year institution, offering liberal arts and transfer programs in addition to its broad array of technical programs.
* M State has one of the largest dental clinics in Minnesota with 24 state-of-the-art stations. Through a grant from the Minnesota Department of Health, the dental program makes its facilities available one night per week for patients on medical assistance programs. 
* M State Moorhead, working with Titan Machinery, developed the first educational partnership in the country to educate diesel equipment technicians for CaseIH and New Holland dealerships in the tri-state region. It is also one of only seven college programs in the country that prepare technicians for John Deere Construction dealers. Additionally, the diesel equipment technology program is one of about 20 colleges nationally that partners with Bobcat Company to provide training for dealer technicians.
* During the past five years, the campus has undertaken over $10 million of additions and renovations. The campus is currently planning for a new three-story addition to house a new library and additional classrooms.

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