Emergency manager earns state award

In a year like 2020, it is safe to assume an emergency manager comes in handy.

The state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM) has named Sandoval County’s Seth Muller as Emergency Manager of the Year.

DHSEM Preparedness Bureau Chief Wendy Blackwel nominated Muller.

“Seth is always working to be a leader and better the world, even when there is no emergency to respond to or plan for. He dedicates countless hours of his personal life on top of his workday to help others, to build relationships, to promote emergency management and better the world around him,” Blackwel said. “The current health pandemic has not slowed him down even a little, just given him a chance to shine brighter than before.”

Throughout the pandemic, Muller has assisted in getting personal protective equipment to Rio Rancho Public Schools, the county Public Health Office, county employees, tribal partners and members of the community, she said. Muller set up a staging area for organizations to pick up PPE and supplies.

“Seth serves as a role model for myself and countless others,” Blackwel said. “I am certain that if there were one or two others who worked that hard to help anyone at all, the world would be a better place for us all.”

Muller is also president of the New Mexico Emergency Management Association, she said.

Muller was surprised to learn he won the award.

“There are a lot of emergency managers in New Mexico that do a lot of work for their communities,” he said.

Emergency managers across the state, the DHSEM and state Department of Health and others participate in a daily call with updates about COVID-19 and other concerns, he said. During this call, he was announced as one of the winners.

“I said, ‘Thank you’ and a few words to those that were on the call, and then the call moved on. I texted my wife right away to let her know, but most of the day was just trying to get my head around the fact this honor was bestowed on me,” Muller said.

The award assured him he is making a difference.

“With everything going on and all the work that all emergency managers are doing, to be selected and recognized brings validity to what I am doing and further reassures me that I am doing it right,” Muller said. “Many days I question myself — I think most people do — and wonder, ‘Is what I am doing making a difference?’”

Muller’s work is mostly done “behind the scenes” with many people not knowing what an emergency manager does, he said.

“A tornado hits — we get flooding, etc. —the emergency manager is front and center, and then a few weeks go by and things are back to normal. However, with COVID, it is a long-lasting and ongoing disaster that we are trying to manage,” Muller said. “Add in all the politics that seem to be going with this pandemic; it makes it even more stressful and fearful.”

Muller has worked to make the profession of emergency management more recognized, he said. It has been over 250 days since the county declared an emergency in March.

“There are rumors of a vaccine next month for hospitals and health care workers, but it will be early next year to spring before we can do first responders, and probably the summer before we even get close to thinking about the general public. Every day we are dealing with things, and some days, I feel like the COVID king, as anything and everything that has to do with COVID is filtered through me,” he said.

Muller’s position comes with a lot of pressure, he said.

“This makes it even harder to ensure what I am saying or doing is the best for my family, my colleagues and my community,” he said.

Muller has been the county’s emergency manager since 2018 and says the experience is rewarding.

“I am deeply grateful to all the support I have from my family, the county leadership and my fellow emergency managers; without them, none of what I do would be possible. I am also very grateful to Sandoval County, as a whole, and the way that everyone I have met or dealt with has been nothing but pleasant and rewarding,” he said.

Muller’s department and local first responders are doing everything they can to ensure the community is safe and protected throughout the pandemic, he said.

For updates from the Sandoval County Emergency Management office, search for “SandovalOEM” on Facebook.