Meet a Delegate Monday: Becky Koch

Michelle Bufkin, AU Agriculture Communications Student/EDEN Community of Practice Social Media Assistant, recently interviewed EDEN delegate Becky Koch who will be presenting at the EDEN Annual Meeting.

1. How did you first get involved with EDEN?

Becky Koch March 2011After the 1993 Mississippi and Missouri River floods, Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois got a grant from what is now the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to study what they and other states could learn from the flood experience. They wanted to study how we could learn from each other, so each state did not have to start from scratch after a disaster like this. They sent letters to every extension director about a discussion meeting in Kansas City, asking each North Central Region state to send a representative. The NDSU Extension Service interim director came to me with this letter, stating that they needed communications people at this meeting and asked if I wanted to go. My first response,was, “disasters? That has nothing to with what I do.” But it was a free trip home for me, so I went to the meeting. Little did I know how much that spoof of an experience would impact my career and my life. I had no idea how important those connections and lessons learned would be beneficial three years down the road when North Dakota flooded. There was not an EDEN website in ‘97 when we flooded, so I emailed people every day for weeks with questions. I realized how important that network of states was when we experienced this similar disaster and I could turn to them.

2. In your opinion what is the most important part of preparing a business for a disaster?
One of the most important steps is having a communications plan. I’m responsible for 25 people in my department. I have not done everything I could for my “business” but we have a communications plan. Everybody knows how to learn if the university is going to be closed. We have talked about each of us taking individual responsibility to know what’s going on because I won’t have time to call everyone or the phones might be down. We also talk about being prepared at home. The university does fire drills, but they had never done a tornado drill, so we did a tornado drill to practice sheltering in place in addition to evacuating. Practicing where to go is so very important. A communications plan with staff and drills to practice the basics are necessary for any business to prepare for a disaster.

3. Can you tell us a little about your EDEN meeting material?
NDSU received a NIFA Smith-Lever Special Needs grant to develop an app for both Android and Apple smartphones and tablets to help businesses develop their disaster preparedness plans. The first question we always get is, “why do you need that as an app? All that information is online.” The nice thing about the app is that the business owner/manager can walk around the office, take pictures of equipment, write in what piece of equipment it is and when it was bought, and take inventory for a disaster. The app will make it easier, which will hopefully motivate small businesses to actually develop a plan. At the EDEN meeting, we will ask for volunteers to test the app, along with students in NDSU’s Emergency Management major.

4. Can you tell us about your role in handling disasters in North Dakota?
The disaster we get the most in North Dakota is flooding. We get blizzards, but the only thing you can do for those is prepare and shelter in place. We promote blizzard preparedness ,such as having a winter survival kit in your car, downloading our Winter Survival Kit app, keeping an emergency kit at home. It is easier to sell preparedness up here, because people have been stuck at home during a blizzard, so they take it more seriously. As a communicator, I send out news releases and notifications to our own staff. I also work very closely with Ken Hellevang to review what flood resources are online, and what else we need to post. We figure out what to send to the staff and public to get the word out about flooding that is occurring and how to be prepared and how to recover. I also work very closely with the subject matter experts, no matter the disaster, to see if other states have resources through EDEN or to help them create resources to give out to our staff or the public.

5. What piece of advice would you give to our delegates?
Utilize the network. I was at the meeting where we came up with the name Extension Disaster Education Network, and “network” truly is the perfect word. It is so important for us to work together, to ask questions of each other, to share resources, and to make sure we are telling the same story across state lines. Utilize the network: do not be afraid to just send out an email if you need information. Do not just wait for information to come to you, but reach out to others who might provide information and resources pertinent to your state and situation. Also utilize the courses online. You do not have to be an expert on something to teach it. Those courses provide the background and information you need to help you teach others about those topics.