Benton County welcomes emergency management director

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Tschida joins newly created division within sheriff’s office

BY TIM HENNAGIR
STAFF WRITER  


Benton County’s recently appointed emergency management director takes disaster planning a step beyond consideration of “what if” events.

“Communication is the key,” Kristen Tschida said. “It’s most likely the first thing to break down in an emergency.”

Tschida began her role with the county Jan. 17.

Effective emergency management starts locally, according to Tschida.
“All emergencies start and end at the local level,” she said. “You have to build good relationships.”

That is something Tschida learned during her nine years of employment as a
Stearns County emergency management specialist and through interaction with former Benton County emergency management director Jim McDermott.

“I worked with Jim predominantly through the Central Minnesota Emergency Management region,” she said. “I also participated in exercises he hosted. Jim had a lot of knowledge and lots of experience.”

Benton County’s emergency management duties were placed under the county administrator when McDermott started in 2006.
When McDermott retired in June 2022, county administrator Monty Headley covered essential job functions until Tschida was hired by Benton County.

The county posted the position from Aug. 2 to Oct. 31, 2022. Five candidates interviewed.

Commissioners Scott Johnson and Jared Gapinski served on the county’s selection committee.

“Everyone that I’ve met in the last three weeks has been absolutely welcoming,” Tschida said. “People have stopped by my office, leaned in the doorway and said, ‘Hi, I’m so-and-so.’ It’s been very friendly.”
Emergency management is now a division within the Benton County Sheriff’s Office. Tschida reports directly to chief deputy Neal Jacobson.

“I work within the overall department structure,” she said.

“It’s an interesting position because state statute requires that this position be appointed by the county board.”

The coronavirus pandemic created challenges for emergency managers, she said.

Three years ago next month, government entities were activating emergency plans.

“It was a wild few months,” Tschida said. “I don’t think people expected such strict guidelines regarding work attendance and not being able to send kids to school.”

Stearns County interacted quite a bit with Benton County Public Health, she said. “Stearns County also represented the city of St. Cloud,” Tschida said. “There was some overlap.”

Local officials will be Tschida’s greatest resource as she learns her new job. She will attend the Benton County Township supervisors’ meeting this month.

“Part of my role in engaging with township officials involves severe weather events and state or federal disaster declarations, if they are needed,” she said.

After a disaster, the state requires a county to submit a report within 72 hours.

Tschida said it is impossible for her to survey an entire county.
She used flood damage to culverts as an example.

“Township officials know everything about them,” she said. “They know the dollar value if there’s a washout. Developing those relationships is going to be critical.”

Tschida will also play a key role in revising Benton County’s hazard mitigation plan.

Such plans assess the natural hazards that pose risk to a county, such as tornadoes, straight line winds, ice storms, blizzards, wildfire, flooding and extreme temperatures, and identifies ways to minimize the damage of events.

“It’s going to take some time to figure out our goals,” Tschida said. “I haven’t had a chance yet to sit down with commissioners to discuss their vision and needs. I’m sure we will address planning, budget and possible future staffing changes.”