Storms fly through state, be prepared for winter weather
Just as the first snowflakes of the season fly through the air, officials are urging North Dakotans to be prepared for the upcoming winter season. For the first time, the official list of items suggested by the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services includes a cell phone and charger, according to Jerry Bergquist, Stutsman County emergency manager.
"It's time to get the cars ready for winter with the survival kit," he said. "A cell phone is a great thing to have in the car in the winter but it doesn't give people a license to not be prepared."
Bergquist said every winter the dispatch center receives calls originating from cell phones from stranded motorists.
"We get the cell phone calls to 911 saying 'hey, we're stuck or in a ditch,'" he said. "But the thing is we may not be able to get to them immediately and law enforcement will not put people in jeopardy without justification in bad situations so you may have to sit in the car for a while."
Sgt. Mitch Rumple of the North Dakota Highway Patrol agreed.
"We respond to all calls but the response time will differ with every call," he said. "A cell phone isn't the ticket for safe travel. We encourage people to slow down. High-profile vehicles weave in the wind but if the wind is strong enough it will affect cars, too."
Rumple also strongly suggested wearing seat belts and not traveling in bad weather unless it's necessary.
"Stay with the vehicle," he said. "Even if you call with your cell phone we may not be able to get to you right away because of the weather or maybe because we are responding to multiple calls."
Bergquist also warned that cell phone coverage does not exist in all areas and small dead spots, usually in low-lying areas, may exist along even well-traveled roads.
And while most people now carry a cell phone with them there are options for people who want to leave a cell phone in their car throughout the winter.
"An old cell phone, even without a contract, still can call 911," Bergquist said. "But if it is too old it may not have the Global Positioning System capabilities."
Federal Communication Commission regulations have required all cell phones to have GPS capabilities since 2008. Prior to that many manufacturers included it but it was not mandated.
With GPS coordinates, a dispatch center knows the location of the caller within 100 feet -- unless the phone is not equipped with GPS or the cloud cover is too dense for the satellite signal to penetrate. This is why blankets, flashlights, water, nonperishable food and other items in a well-stocked emergency kit are recommended.
"I think we have a tendency every year to forget how bad winter can be," Bergquist said. "The public needs to be reminded what the tools and resources are to deal with winter weather."
Norman is a reporter at The Jamestown Sun, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.