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Emergency managers meet in Bismarck

North Dakota’s Emergency Management Association and the state Department of Emergency Services held their annual conference this week in Bismarck.

It’s the first time in three years the conference will be in-person.

Mike Smith is the emergency management director for Williams County and the City of Williston. He’s the acting president of the Emergency Management Association. He said he’s especially looking forward to speakers who will talk about the recent major storms in Kentucky, as well as a presentation on “mass care” from the Red Cross. Smith said that latter topic is of particular interest, because of the two blizzards that hit back in April.

"Some of our citizens were without power for three weeks," Smith said. "At one time, all 36,000 residents of my county were without power for a short time."

Smith said a shelter was opened for people without power.

"These are the things we emergency managers do — we take care of the public, and we learn from each other," Smith said.

Fortunately, no one died in those storms.

"We worked side-by-side with public works, county highway and the DOT, and were able to pair snowplows with emergency vehicles," Smith said. "So when they went out on their emergency calls, we made sure that each emergency vehicle had a plow assigned, and were able to get safely to their destinations, and get the patients to their hospitals."

Cyber Security a big topic

One of the main topics at the Conference was cybersecurity.

North Dakota Homeland Security Director Dean Hanson said he was looking to put together what he called a "whole community response" to cyber threats.

"If a private sector company gets impacted, it could still mean 'lights out' for North Dakota," Hanson said. "No heat, no power in the middle of winter — that's a real crisis."

Hanson said he's working with the electric companies and other state and local agencies, to come up with a plan.

"If the worst should happen, we're better prepared," Hanson said.

Hanson said it seems there are new threats every day.

"What makes it most difficult, at least from my perspective, is that they (cyber attackers) only have to be right once ," Hanson said. "We have to be right 100 percent of the time, when we're on defense."

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