Fargo - The head of North Dakota's emergency management services says the state is prepared to respond to Dakota Access pipeline protesters who may need help during a winter storm or some other crisis.
State Homeland Security Director Greg Wilz said it would be a "huge challenge," especially during a mass evacuation, but his office has winter shelter plans in place and various agencies are ready to respond.
"The bottom line here is, if we are in a situation of life and limb, we are going to be humane in anything and everything we do," Wilz said. "We aren't going to let somebody out there freeze. So if they start evacuating en masse looking for shelter, which I highly suspect will happen, we would take care of that."
The government has ordered hundreds of protesters to leave the Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires camp, on federal land in southern North Dakota by Monday, although demonstrators say they're prepared to stay until changes are made to the route of the four-state, $3.8bn pipeline.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe and others say the pipeline north of the reservation could pollute drinking water and threatens sacred sites.
The North Dakota Department of Transportation and Morton County Highway Department will be key players in any evacuation plans, Wilz said, noting that those agencies worked to keep roads clear around the protest site during a recent storm that dumped more than a metre of snow.