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St. Croix County's Ray Morris is prepared for any emergency

Ray Morris brings experience to his new post as Emergency Preparedness Specialist for St. Croix County. It includes 17 years with the National Park Service. His hat is just one of the items in his office reminiscent of that time in his life. Working for the NPS was one of Morris' lifetime goals. Photo by Margaret A. Ontl

Ray Morris' life started in the beautiful Poconos Mountains of Pennsylvania. Little did he know that his 32-year career with the U.S. government would send him on a journey filled with natural wonders as well as intrigue.

Morris graduated from college with B.A. degree in secondary education. He then earned a M.A. degree in art history. After a year of teaching, he started working as a National Park Service Ranger at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia in 1980. In seventeen years with the NPS, Morris steadily rose through the ranks from park ranger to chief park ranger. He worked at Valley Forge and managed Gettysburg National Military Park for five years.

"It has one of the biggest visitor centers in the park system," said Morris, who as a federal law enforcement officer, began teaching classes all over the nation for rangers. His professional rise in the NPS continued with assignments at St. Augustine in Florida, and Fort Frederica National Monument on St. Simon Island in Georgia. During this time he was in command of marine law enforcement in Biscayne Bay, in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew.

After seventeen years with the NPS, Morris accepted the position of executive director of Minnesota Federal Executive Board, which he held for 15 years until Feb. 3. He started working for St. Croix County on Feb. 6. It may be the shortest retirement in history.

"I was responsible for all of the federal government's activities, interagency communications and cooperation between 120 different agencies," said Morris. "The Federal Executive Boards, of which there are 28, were created in 1963 so we had our roots in the cold war era." Today, it is the third largest employer in the state of Minnesota.

"The primary mission is to get the government to cost less by eliminating duplication and addressing issues once," said Morris. "You do it once for all instead of repeating it."

It was time for Morris to retire, but he was ready for a new challenge. St. Croix County hired him as an emergency preparedness specialist in the St. Croix County Emergency Support Services Department, the director of which is Casey Swetlik. That department is in Emergency Management Division where Kristen Sailer is the emergency management coordinator. The oversight committee is the Public Protection Committee.

Morris' position includes public health, public health pandemic emergency planning, general emergency planning and planning for weather events and terrorist issues.

"I was looking for something I could actually sink my teeth into," said Morris. "I bring a lot of knowledge after three decades with the federal government in emergency management. I have great contacts, both federal and non-federal colleagues that I can tap into."

"I believe in helping people and preparing people for things that we should never have to deal with," said Morris. "Our biggest threats in St. Croix County are from weather and the environment." He cited tornados, winds and flooding. "We have to prepare for these threats. It is something positive to know we have a plan."

"There are potentially bigger threats on the national or regional level which are handled by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force. We had a lot of good success in the years since 911. We have not had an attack on the homeland and that is not by accident."

Morris would know, since he was a member of the FBI, JTTF executive board. He has testified in front of the U.S. Senate and maintains a federal top security clearance.

Morris commented on cyber security as a national issue.

"It is the first time in history when a country can be attacked by someone who hasn't set foot in the country. It is alarming."

Morris and his wife Marcia live in Mendota Heights, Minn., but maintain a cabin in Sawyer County.

He loves to fly fish and plans to visit the Kinnickinnic River on his way home from work when the season begins.

"We love Wisconsin," said Morris. "This job is perfect. I love to work with people. I am a Packer Fan and it is fun to get back to my roots where I can help directly."