SLAYTON — Murray County has welcomed Justin Koch as its new emergency management director and safety coordinator, taking over from Chief Sheriff's Deputy Heath Landsman.

Koch comes from Moorhead and recently graduated from North Dakota State University with a degree in emergency management.

Koch's career in emergency management fulfills what he calls a "lifelong call to help people and public service." He discovered the career path while doing research about his next steps after deployment with the U.S. Air Force.

"It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made," Koch added.

The move to Slayton is also an exciting decision for Koch.

“I was inspired to move to Murray County because it reminds me of where I grew up," Koch said. "I went to school in River Falls, Wisconsin, but lived about 20 minutes out in the country and was closer to Ellsworth, Wisconsin, which is the ‘cheese curd capital of the world’ and is similar in size to Slayton.”

Koch's wife, Jessica, will join him in Slayton next May after finishing her dental hygiene program at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead. The Koches have two rescue dogs, Greta, a Golden blend, and Nymeria, a husky-lab blend.

“So far, I love my emergency management job," Koch said of his first few weeks. "Heath (Landsman) did a great job with the program, and I look to build upon the foundation that was laid before me.

"The biggest challenge will be meeting everyone and building new connections in Murray County," he continued. "There are lots of people to meet, and it is critical to make sure that everyone is incorporated into the planning process to ensure that we don’t have any gaps.”

Part of that incorporation is an invitation for the public to participate in emergency management resources available to them. Koch encourages everyone to sign up for Code Red, which is a free alert service for emergencies, including weather events, missing children and evacuation notices. There is a link on the Murray County website that will help people sign up for Code Red.

Koch also explained that everyone whose township or city participates in the National Flood Insurance Program is eligible for flood insurance, whether they live in a floodplain or not. Since spring flooding is likely to be an ongoing struggle, Koch recommended that Murray County residents look into buying flood insurance. It's also smart to make sure homeowner's insurance includes sewer backup and sump pump failure, Koch added.

As the county's safety coordinator, Koch is responsible for ensuring that county facilities and office spaces are safe. He works alongside County Administrator Tom Burke in this effort.