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VIDEO: Muller sworn in as Emergency Management Director

BEMIDJI -- The passing of a gavel and a metaphorical torch highlighted Tuesday’s Beltrami County Commissioners meeting. Commissioner Richard Anderson (District 3) relinquished the title of chairman to Jim Lucachick (District 5) and Chris Muller was sworn in as the new Emergency Management Director.

Muller, a self-proclaimed “weather nerd,” has been preparing for this day since 2010. Muller served alongside Beryl Wernberg as Assistant Emergency Management Director until Jan. 1.

“Beryl has really set the foundation for me to continue to personally advance in emergency management,” Muller said. “She is also deserving in a lot of credit on where we are today. Beltrami County is certainly looked at as a leader in emergency management, not only in Region 3, but across the state.”

Commissioner Lucachick said Bemidji is growing as a regional center and has changed inr the past 20 years.

“We’ve evolved into a different kind of animal,” Lucachick said.

Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, the emergency management field has grown and advanced. Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp said the job of the Emergency Management Director had gotten too big due to directives that have been placed on counties from both the federal government and the state.

“Up until this point Chris was Beryl’s assistant and they both were emergency management and communications. Now we’re going to separate the jobs. Chris will be emergency management and Beryl will be communications,” Hodapp explained. “They’ll still work together all the time as a team. This way responsibilities are divided more evenly.”

Wernberg was Emergency Management Director for 12 years and Director of Emergency Communications. Wernberg has been with the Sheriff’s Office for 39 years.

Beltrami joins Roseau and Pennington counties as one of three in Minnesota’s

Region 3 area to have a full-time Emergency Management Director. Organizations involved in emergency management include Federal Emergency Management Administration, Homeland Security Management and regional, tribal and local organizations.

“Our best emergency managers in the county are 911 dispatchers,” Muller said.

Muller provided commissioners with an overview of emergency management as it stands in 2014. He said social media is one area that has become important over the past decade.

“Social media in emergency management has become very important,” Muller said. He added it becomes a double-edged sword because it can’t always be controlled. However, the Beltrami County emergency management team has a Facebook page to disseminate correct information.

Regionalization is something Muller said has been utilized to provide more services to areas that otherwise couldn’t afford them on their own. Muller noted a change in the Stafford Act allows tribal governments to go straight to the federal government for funding without having to meet the same funding thresholds as counties.

“That’s where it becomes very important to work together in trying to collaborate when we do file for these disaster declarations so that everybody is getting the assistance that they need,” Muller explained.

Muller said people in emergency management need to be prepared to deal with both manmade and natural disasters, noting the recent train derailment in Casselton, N.D. could have happened in Beltrami County. An Emergency Management Director’s duties are linked to a county’s ability to receive grant funding.

“Grant money is really drying up and it’s getting very competitive,” Muller said.

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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