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'Be Prepared' is more than a motto for county emergency preparedness specialist

Natasha Cardinal will be splitting her time between Hudson and New Richmond in her position as emergency preparedness specialist for St. Croix County.(Hudson Star-Observer photo by Margaret A. Ontl)

There is a entire infrastructure in place that the average citizen is unaware of. Natasha Cardinal, St. Croix County’s Emergency Preparedness Program Specialist and the Medical Reserve Corps Coordinator, is all too aware of it.

“My main responsibility is organizing and planning the St. Croix County Public Health Emergency Plan (PHEP),” said Cardinal. PHEP was first developed in 2004 under the Western Region Partnership for Public Health and is a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. “It seeks to ensure our public health department is prepared for emergencies in the county such as infectious diseases, natural disasters, biological, chemical, nuclear and radiological events.”

Cardinal, an Amery native, graduated from Winona State University with a degree in public health. Last year she completed her Master’s in public health and did her practicum in St. Croix County from May 2013 to August 2013. Her first introduction to public health and emergency management was while she was an undergraduate.

“It intrigued me and I wanted to learn more about it,” said Cardinal, who quickly shifted her studies to focus on public health. Dec. 9 was her first day on the job in St. Croix County.

“It is a very complex job,” said Cardinal. “It is my responsibility that our public health department is prepared for anything that could create a public health hazard.”

Her job includes coordinating an all-hazards public health approach to emergency management through planning, training and exercises for citizens and response personnel. The CDC assists state & local public health departments in their planning by developing 15 different capabilities that serve as national public health preparedness standards.

The St. Croix County Public Health Emergency Plan under Cardinal’s direction works in partnership with other public health departments, local governments, schools, community-based organizations, professional associations, and a range of healthcare providers and facilities including hospitals, primary care clinics, long-term care facilities and emergency medical service providers.

She also works with Cities Readiness Initiative (CRI), which is a program designed to enhance preparedness in some of the largest cities and metropolitan statistical areas.

“Since St. Croix County is considered part of the Twin Cities metro statistical area, our public health department must be able to quickly receive and distribute medicine and medical supplies from the strategic national stockpile (SNS) to local communities following a large-scale public health emergency within 48 hours,” said Cardinal. “I help develop those plans, create guides, and coordinate response presentations, training, drills and exercises.”

The CDC’s strategic national stockpile is a large quantity of medicine and medical supplies to protect the American public if there happens to be public health emergency, such as a terrorist attack or influenza outbreak.

“They are available 24 hours a day,” said Cardinal. “The CDC can have medical supplies to us within 48 hours.”

Points of Dispensing (PODs) are designated dispensing locations for such supplies.

In April, Cardinal will be coordinating local POD exercises which are practice runs to make sure the distribution infrastructure is in place and works as planned.

Cardinal’s other duties include being the coordinator of the St. Croix Valley Medical Reserves Corps, which is a volunteer program for the county that is dedicated to improving and ensuring public health, safety and welfare of the communities.

This organization helps assist during emergencies by providing rapid, coordinated response, using locally recruited medical, mental health, public health, and non-medical support volunteers. There are presently 27 volunteers in the corps.

“Be prepared,” said Cardinal emphatically, when asked what the individual can do. “Everyone one should have a basic kit, everyone. It is critical to survival to have at least one and know where it is.”

While the basic kit lists suggests you store enough for three days. You are encouraged to consider creating one with enough supplies for two weeks.

For more details about kit suggestions, go to

“I really enjoy all aspects of public health,” said Cardinal, who when she is not doing extensive emergency planning to benefit all the residents of St. Croix County. She is training for marathons: “My passion is training and exercising.”

A basic emergency supply kit

Recommended items:

  • Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
  • Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Manual can opener for food
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger