A new multi-hazard mitigation plan is steadily coming together.

Local and area emergency management officials gathered at Dickinson Law Enforcement Center Thursday for the most recent in a series of multi-county meetings.

The current five-year mitigation plan expired in December, Emergency Services Director Bill Fahlsing explained.

KLJ Engineering was contracted in 2017 to craft a new plan.

The completed plan addresses crisis responses to multiple scenarios in four counties: Billings, Golden Valley, Stark and Dunn.

The meeting Thursday focused on getting input from local emergency planning committees to update the plan for the next five-year period.

A public survey to obtain feedback from the counties and its cities about their priorities and concerns related to disasters has already had 90 responses.

KLJ has also visited each area community and asked its citizens to provide insights into and rate their top hazards, Engineer Joel Quanbeck said.

"We explained these hazards we're covering and really what we're thinking about is, what are our potential impacts in our communities?" he said. "I think of this list as the order of priority for what we're trying to protect."

Priorities that needed to be defined included protection from loss of life, response capability, and protecting critical infrastructure.

"Homeland Security breaks down critical structures into 12 or 13 categories, and then critical facilities based on those," Fahlsing said. "It can go anywhere from a waste water treatment plant down to a fire hydrant as a critical facility."

The counties needed to distinguish government and private infrastructure as mitigation funds are only available to government agencies, Fahlsing said.

Utilities are considered partner agencies.

"They're not government agencies, but they are critical infrastructure," Fahlsing said. "Bearing power lines is a huge mitigation activity."

Specific critical infrastructures were not identified, as that information is confidential.

Potential hazards include flood, drought, wildland fire, winter storm and dam failure, as well as cyber attack, civil disobedience and hazardous materials release.

A great concern for counties is funding for emergency communications, Dickinson Fire Chief Bob Sivak said, especially with North Dakota's SIRN 20/20 system readying to be implemented.

Dickinson Fire Department's radio equipment is "at the end of its life," Sivak said.

"We can't even buy spare parts for it anymore," he said. "The reason we haven't been keeping current is because of the looming SIRN 20/20 project, so why buy something that's not going to match what's coming into play in a couple of years."

The completed plan will cover all the risks and hazards in those four counties, identify actual mitigation strategies to address their concerns, and detail how to implement those plans and prepare for the next planning cycle.

Quanbeck said assembling the new hazard mitigation plan has been going well.

"The biggest thing I'm appreciating is the level of response we have received," he said. "We've gotten a pretty good number of individual surveys back, though I'd still like to see a lot more."

For more information about the hazard mitigation plan and to participate in the survey, visit the project website at https://www.starkcountyhazardplan.com.