Faced a with a hard choice between veterans services and emergency management, Crow Wing County official Dave Schuldheisz followed his heart to veteran services now that the offices may be split.
"It wasn't an easy decision," he said. "My reason is because vets helped me. I wanted to help them. ... This was my choice."
Schuldheisz has been the department head for both veterans services and emergency management. His office is in the lower level of the courthouse on Laurel Street in Brainerd. Outside the office a computer screen provides updated weather information. Schuldheisz knows people think of weather when they think of the office. Until a couple of years ago, they heard his voice come across the television when a watch or warning was announced. But he said emergency management is much more than weather.
Paperwork and administration time for emergency management has increased since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"It's not the red light you see," Schuldheisz said, referring to sirens on emergency vehicles. "It's the management behind."
Management includes the logistics of getting equipment to a destination and determining what assets may be available, such as construction equipment to open a debris-clogged road. Schuldheisz deals with questions and considerations regarding handling of multiple trauma sites that could be involved with tornado touchdowns that hit several communities at one time.
"That's when an emergency operations center comes into it," Schuldheisz said. Other responders, such as firefighters and police officers in various cities. do not answer to the county, but they are involved in a cooperative management. The county has requirements for responses to a hazardous material spill or terrorist activity. Planning lets organizations know what is expected from them.
While Schuldheisz worked on the emergency management part of his office, he still needed time for veterans. The office welcomes walk-ins. When anyone came in needing help from veterans services, Schuldheisz rolled up the papers on his desk and devoted his attention to their needs.
According to a recent job description for Crow Wing County's emergency management director, responsibilities include:
-- Preparing the office's budget and the county's radio tower contract.
-- Writing and updating the county emergency operations plan.
-- Assisting in preparing emergency plans for area cities willing to do a plan.
-- Designing and planning of exercises. Homeland Security grants have been available for exercises. If grant funds are used, the exercise must meet Homeland Security guidelines.
-- Preparing, organizing and applying for grants as needed.
-- Preparing disaster resolutions for the county board.
-- Taking 96 hours of training within the first 48 months and a minimum of eight hours annually thereafter.
-- Managing radio equipment inventory and service contracts, including those for the sheriff's office, highway, land, forestry and parks departments, and for several cities.
-- Working in the Emergency Management Operations Center in the courthouse.
"I didn't feel I was being as efficient as I could be," he said. "Maybe this was time for a change."
With a retirement in the veterans services office and an expected move of the office to the new Community Services Building, a change in the department seemed to match the timing of other changes, Schuldheisz said. Veterans services is slated to move to the new location. Emergency management is expected to remain in the basement of the courthouse.
Schuldheisz began as a storm spotter in 1976. Two years later the Navy veteran was working in veterans services. In the early 1980s, Schuldheisz went into emergency management following a retirement in the office.
Seated behind his desk recently, Schuldheisz considered his history in the department and a change that could mean less contact with long-term weather-watching friends. It was an emotional moment.
"It's a hard decision," Schuldheisz said.
There are 6,900 veterans in Crow Wing County. People coming to his desk often are seeking help for medications and hearing aides. Veterans are faced with changes in income guidelines from Veterans Affairs when it comes to qualifying for certain services. Schuldheisz helps them through the maze.
Schuldheisz said he spoke with Peter Herlofsky Jr., county administrator, and they thought this move would be a good one. But Schuldheisz said he was unhappy with the characterization in a Dispatch headline that the county was seeking an expert for emergency manager. The county board discussed hiring a part-time emergency manager for the remainder of the year and decided to advertise for the position. Schuldheisz said a few people asked whether he was still there. He said the office has considerable expertise in the emergency management role now. He serves on one of three state teams, which send experts to disaster scenes to help area officials. One team came to Brainerd for the 2002 wildfire in Barrows. Teams responded in recent years to the Red River Valley flood and the St. Peter tornado. Schuldheisz served with the team sent to the blowdown near Ely.
"That's one of the things I'll miss," Schuldheisz said of the association, adding he was committed to the management planning process. He said the same process serves both large and small incidents.
Schuldheisz plans to work together with a new emergency manager, should one be hired, for the next year.
In the end, Schuldheisz said he balanced the emergency management requirements and time demands against his continuing desire to work with veterans.
"That is where my heart and soul was to begin with."
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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