Marshall County officials describe tornado response at conference

T-R PHOTO BY MIKE DONAHEY Marshall County Auditor/Recorder Nan Benson, far right, makes a point during Thursday’s discussion on emergency preparedness at the Midwest Rural Agricultural Safety and Health conference in DeJardin Hall on the Marshalltown Community College campus. Looking on is Marshall County Emergency Management Coordinator Kim Elder and Marshall County Building and Grounds director Lucas Baedke.

Being adequately prepared, an ability to multi-task while managing volunteers and donations were key points provided at a Thursday conference.

The points were given by Marshall County Emergency Management director Kim Elder who was joined by other county officials for a panel discussion on day two of the Midwest Rural Agricultural Safety and Health Conference in Marshalltown.

Marshall County Buildings and Grounds director Lucas Baedke and Marshall County Auditor/Recorder Nan Benson shared experiences and gave attendees a “how to” in dealing with the city’s first tornado emergency which hit Marshalltown on July 18, 2018.

The three panelists described their work immediately following the tornado’s lift-off and in days, weeks and months that followed.

The tornado’s devastation challenged county, city and emergency responders to act quickly and efficiently.

Hundreds of trees in the northwest and northeast quadrant were felled, which required dozens upon dozens of streets to be cleared immediately.

UnityPoint Health-Marshalltown hospital suffered severe roof damage, which required many patients to be evacuated to UnityPoint Health-Waterloo facilities and elsewhere.

Benson said she was glad she and a staff of nine had practiced a tornado drill several months before the tornado hit.

“Some staff did not want to hold the drill in 2018,” Benson said with a smile. “But we did and our team went to three different rooms in the courthouse as part of the drill. Interestingly, there was no opposition to holding a drill this year.”

Elder and Benson said it was important to communicate information to the public via social media, news releases and flyers printed in several languages.

Elder complimented E-911 dispatchers who kept the public informed and still were able to direct emergency responders.

“They had to leave their posts in the basement offices of the ‘old’ police department abruptly on two occasions due to gas leaks in the building,” Elder said. “They walked nearly two blocks to the RACOM building. RACOM staff offered prompt, professional and courteous service despite their building suffering significant damage.”

Benson said it was important to use all means of communication at one’s disposal.

“Some residents understood why the courthouse was closed the Friday following the tornado,” Benson said. “However a number of residents were surprised we were not open for business Monday, meaning we had to get the word out about the courthouse suffering extensive damage as soon as possible.”

Baedke told attendees the tornado removed approximately 65-feet of structure from the courthouse top, meaning the cupola and spire were torn away by the tornado’s wrath.

Severed water lines installed for fire prevention made for extensive water damage in the courthouse interior, which is still being repaired.

Brandi Janssen, director of the Iowa Center for Agricultural Safety and Health, said the goal of the conference was to bring people concerned about rural health and safety together.

Janssen said the conference focused on safety and engineering solutions as well as mental health, stress and wellness practices. Also discussed were steps for disaster preparedness and recovery procedures.

“We know we could learn a lot from local officials, Janssen said. “The information shared would help us when we return home. We will be better prepared for tornadoes, floods and any number of disasters that could happen at any time.”


Contact Mike Donahey

at 641-753-6611 or



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