Minn. Homeland Security director visits Austin

Published 9:03 am Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Preparing for an emergency is a busy job.

Kris Eide, Minnesota director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, spoke with the Mower County Board of Commissioners Tuesday about the possibility of splitting the job of the emergency management and veterans service officer, a joint position currently held by Wayne Madson.

With a high number of veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Eide said, veterans’ services is a growing field in government.

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Likewise, emergency management has been thrust into the spotlight in recent years with events like Hurricane Katrina, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the oil spill in the Gulf.

Eide said that an emergency management director is an important position to ensure a county is prepared to respond and react to disasters, like floods and hazardous weather.

“Emergency management has recently been considered one of the fastest growing professions in government in the United States, which to me seems comical since it’s been around since the Civil War days,” Eide said.

There are now only eight joint veteran service and emergency management officers in the state, down from 19 a year ago.

In the last 12 years, Eide said a state of emergency has been declared five times in Austin, often due to flooding. And while things like the flood buyout has helped reduce some of the spring flooding concerns, Eide said the emergency management position is still important.

However, the key question is where the funding for such a split would come from. Eide said that her office can help fund changes to as much as $20,000 the first year. But County Coordinator Craig Oscarson said that may not be enough.

“The real problem is that little money is insignificant in the scope of things,” Oscarson said, noting the necessary employees to split the two duties would require much more funding.

Oscarson said the option sounds like another partially funded state mandate that the county is expected to pay for. State mandates have been a key county concern when discussing the budget.

Despite the limitations, Eide and the board said Madson has done a good job with limited resources recently.