Paul Scherschligt

When it comes to the safety of Yankton county citizens during an emergency, Paul Scherschligt has their backs. Scherschligt began his role as Yankton County Emergency Manager in January 2011. The job suits him well; he’s always had the mentality of helping people and has nearly 40 years of public safety experience.

Though he has an extremely busy schedule, he gladly arranged time for me to visit with him about the role he and his team have. Their office, located at 807 Capital Street, serves as base for the team. Staff members working with Paul include Erin Hacecky, Chief Deputy Emergency Manager; Robert Taylor, Deputy Emergency Manager/Rescue Liaison; Cherie Hoffman, Deputy Emergency Manager/Public Information Officer and Bryant Jackson, Yankton County Search & Rescue Team Leader.

Scherschligt explains that the emergency situations our county could face can be a result of manmade, nature or terror acts. Emergency management is categorized four ways: Preparedness, mitigation, response & recovery. He gives a brief explanation of what each category entails for his team.

Preparedness – Preparedness looks at what can be done should an emergency happen, for example a result of nature or an instance such as an oil pipeline break. The look at how this can affect people and their life safety, for instance the odds of someone getting hurt, how many could be affected and even whether there is enough hospital room or transportation if needed. The preparedness plan is updated every year as it is vital to keep current contact information for agencies they work with.

Mitigation – This step is basically being proactive of situations that could happen. The team watches areas that might become an issue and try to find ways to deter any problems. Part of this step is applying for mitigation grants which can help some of the projects. These grants which are based off previous disasters by the state are not a one-step process to apply for, it involves much time and effort.

Response – In this phase, they look at everything that must be done, including what supplies or resources will be needed for a situation and what actions need to be taken. An example is if there is a house fire in Yankton County, his team will notify the Red Cross to find shelter for people displaced and will even assist in finding shelter for displaced animals of the home if needed.

“In an emergency response situation,” he explains, “we’re always playing catch up. The incident happens and we come in behind it and actually pass it because that’s how you stop it. That’s the hard part. We’ve got a good group (to help).”

In this phase, Paul will assign duties to the others working with him. They set up an EOC, or Emergency Operations Center, where computers and resources are available for the volunteers brought in to help with the situation.

Recovery – This stage includes rebuilding destroyed property and repair of other infrastructure with the goal of returning systems and activities back to normal. He explained that Yankton County at this time is working in this phase after the April flooding. His team is gathering the information on what damages have been done with the infrastructure of Yankton County. The department has a technological, very advanced way of collecting this data necessary.

He explains that Yankton County has a LEOP, or a Local Emergency Operations Plan. The plan covers every natural disaster, including such detail as how sirens are activated during a storm warning. There are “trigger points” for each situation; the trigger points involve a checklist breaking down different components of the situation to help determine when they might need to increase the help or materials they need.

Scherschligt explained it further, using the Jim River or Missouri River as an example. The rivers rise; when one gets to a certain level, his team starts to look further into the situation. If the river keeps going up, they’ll have meetings with various people to determine what’s going on, who it’s affecting and how it’s affecting them. As it continues to rise, it heightens the situation to move up to the next trigger point.

The team also looks at those four previously mentioned components in emergency situations outside of a natural disaster, including plans for active shooter, civil disturbance, mass fatality and hazmat plans. Details, or tactics, are included on how to handle each situation.

“There’s got to be at least 50 different facets of the plan that we have to look at,” Scherschligt explains. “It isn’t just us. I have to orchestrate the plan; I have to put it together. We have a committee called the local emergency planning committee that works together to help look at things.” As he explained the many duties that he and his team cover in keeping our community safe, I appreciated the responsibility, detail and teamwork of so many that go into this.

This team also assists Scherschligt in providing education to businesses on various issues such as how to recover from an emergency or how to initiate a plan for one. His new goal is to educate more people on these events, especially the younger generation. Scherschligt also has other duties: overseeing the Yankton County Search & Rescue; the Skywarn group, a team of twenty-four people that venture out during storms to determine when to sound the storm warning sirens and CERT, or Community Emergency Response Team, volunteers who are trained to help their neighborhood in certain situations. He and his team also help manage the 211 helpline. This free resource, available 24 hours per day, seven days a week, is for citizens to call for confidential help and assistance with various issues and it helps the Emergency Management team with response and recovery. Citizens are encouraged to call the number to obtain information and to report their damages.

There’s never a dull moment for Scherschligt. He laughs as he explains how he’s gotten the nickname “Mr. Doom & Gloom” because that’s all he looks at: what can happen, how it can go wrong, and how bad it could be.

“You can never be prepared enough,” he states. “The challenging part is making sure we don’t miss something.”

More information about Yankton County Emergency Management can be found on their website, and is located under Departments/Emergency Management. This web page shows announcements, information on road closures and flood assistance along with other various topics, forms, guides and links. Information from the department can also be accessed through their Facebook page, Yankton County Emergency Management.

Scherschligt mentions one source that may be of interest to many; text YCOEM to 898211 to receive short, infrequent text messages about emergency management news and alerts.

Outside of his job, Scherschligt also volunteers with First Responders, Yankton Search and Rescue and volunteers for the fire department in his hometown of Lesterville, previously serving as Chief and currently as Assistant Chief.

Reflecting on his role, he smiles. “I just love doing this stuff. I like it here, I like the people of Yankton County.” He enjoys the working relationship and trust established with his affiliates in Yankton County.

I’ve known Paul as long as I can remember (he’s part of my family) and have always seen him with a calm demeanor. I asked him how he stays composed at work, and he admits it’s not always that way. “Oh, there’s times,” he laughs. “Maybe it’s age.” He admits that they have their ways of dealing with the stress of their jobs, including a space where they can release frustrations. “Keeping calm has a lot to do with the people you work with. I don’t know that a guy could do the job by himself without this team. No matter what level of disaster you have, you have this team that’s there to support you. So you fall back on them.”