The new head of the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division is wrapping up his first few weeks on the job. Mark Schouten moved from the Office of Drug Control Policy after Governor Branstad appointed former Homeland Security administrator, Derek Hill, as a Deputy Adjutant General of the Iowa National Guard.
Schouten was a prosecutor for 20 years, five as an assistant Iowa Attorney General, before taking over the Office of Drug control Policy. “The job of director of the Office of Drug Control Policy was a good one, one where I had experience, I liked it and certainly was comfortable there,” Schouten says. “But when the governor’s office asked me about this position, I felt obligated to say yes, and certainly am glad I did.”
Schouten moved to his new office on December 9th and says the top issue he sees is dealing with the ongoing disaster work. “We have 14 presidentially declared disasters that are open in Iowa, in fact since 2008, we had three presidential declarations for disasters that exceeded the floods back in 1993. I think the division is busier now than it has ever been,” according to Schouten.
Training and preparing to deal with new issues makes up the other side of his job. Iowa has an excellent program for preparedness according to Schouten, that he thinks is superior to other states, because he says the state works with local entities so everyone is prepared should a disaster strike.
He says the disaster response of the state has improved since the major flooding of 1993. “And I think that in part is the result of better training, better exercises, better operations, the ability to coordinate the myriad of resources we have in the state to bring them to bare at the request of local authorities in their time of need,” Schouten says. “I think we’re getting better at it, and I think we’ll continue getting better at it, because we’ll need to. Because we haven’t sen the last disaster.”
The homeland security duties were added to the emergency management division following the attacks of September 11th. Those attacks happened 10 years ago, and it could be easy to relax, but Schouten says Iowans should continue to be alert.
“I think we need to be aware, and we need to be observant and we need to be willing to tell authorities, be it local law enforcement or anyone else, when we see something that is suspicious, that concerns us. Because in most instances, perhaps it may not be anything, but in some instances it may be something significant,” Schouten explains.
Schouten says his new job has a lot of similarities with the old one, as he worked closely with county and local officials in the battle against illegal drugs, and will continue that role now during disaster response, recovery and preparedness training.