Library archives 911 calls from flood

April 18 and 19 are dates remembered in Grand Forks by its people — and its phone lines.

In 1997, The Red River Valley flood wreaked havoc on the city, devastating many. All calls made to and from 911 dispatchers during those two days are now ready to be released to the public.

+According to the Head of Special Collections at the Chester Fritz Library Curt Hanson, the calls aren’t what many might expect.

“911 calls on the worst day of a community’s history,” Hanson said. “And yet, not everyone calling is stressed; there are people calling in saying, ‘I’ve got a bus of people coming from Fargo, where do you need them?’ And so it’s not just people crying and calling all worried, but it’s people who wanted to help, too.”

Hanson said he remembers one call in particular in which one man offered up his 15-foot long boat to help others.

“He said, ‘If you need it, you can use it. I can help out,” Hanson said.

Over 2,100 calls were made in the two-day span, and for over six years, Hanson’s department, along with some help from the library systems department, have been working on digitizing and separating them into individual clips.

“The whole intention was to take the calls and put them on our website so that people could use them — it’s not as if people have to come here to the fourth floor of the Chester Fritz Library to listen to the calls,” Hanson said.

What’s also unique about the recordings is that they portray the fear and concern from both sides. Most of the calls are made by citizens to dispatchers, their family members and media networks. However, the dispatchers themselves also made calls out to their families to check up on them and give them updates.

Although Hanson said it wasn’t an emotional process for him since he wasn’t in Grand Forks during the disaster, he said he has received many calls over his 16 years here from citizens asking about whether they could access recordings from the flood.

“I suspect that it will be emotional for those who come to the reception on Wednesday, because they lived through it, and it truly was an incredibly difficult and stressful event to live through,” Hanson said.

The unveiling will take place in the East Asia Room at the Chester Fritz Library Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.


Marie Monson is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].