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Homeland security chief armed with broad skills

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A Greenwood man who spent 29 years as a police officer with the Indiana State Police and helped plan evacuation routes for victims of Hurricane Katrina will use his experience to lead the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

Gov. Mike Pence has appointed John Hill as executive director of the department, which is responsible for preventing acts of domestic terrorism, such as shootings, and for helping residents during man-made and natural disasters, such as the tornado that struck Henryville last year.

From 1974 to 2003, Hill worked as a police officer for the Indiana State Police, moving up from road trooper to major by the time he retired. While there, Hill led the field enforcement

department, commercial vehicle enforcement department and logistics division.

After retiring, Hill worked for the U.S. Department of Transportation, helping plan highway safety and investigate terrorism-related threats at the national level.

In 2005, Hill was sent to Mississippi to help the state apply for federal grants used for cleanup and to rebuild bridges and roads after Hurricane Katrina.

Hill said he has learned how to work with local law enforcement and how to get aid from the federal government, such as from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will be helpful in his new position with the department of homeland security.

Pence also is concerned with making sure Indiana is prepared for school and other potential shootings, such as the one that recently took place in Connecticut. A school shooting has never happened in Indiana, but Pence and the department of homeland security want to have a plan ready in case such a scenario occurs, Hill said.

“I believe in Governor Pence and what he stands for, and I want to do everything I can to help him. I’ve lived my whole life here except for seven years. It’s a pleasure to serve,” Hill said.

One of Hill’s main concerns when starting the job is the department’s finances. Federal funds pay for most of the homeland security department’s expenses, and Hill worries about potential cuts in funding.

“I need to look at alternatives and make sure I understand the budget and finances,” he said.

His new job will include helping communities and residents recover after a natural disaster.

Hill wants to meet with local emergency officials at the department’s 10 regional centers within his first few months to talk about their communities’ disaster plans. He wants local emergency workers to know what to expect in any disaster situation, how they can start preparing for them now and to learn from what other officials have experienced, such as the Franklin leaders who handled the flood in 2008.

“We need to help those people begin to think incrementally. What are things we could be doing at this point to better things if they do happen?” Hill said.

During natural disasters, the state department helps communities get food, shelter and water, as well as start setting up federal relief funds. He also wants to meet with local organizations, such as the Midwest Food Bank, that might be willing to help.

“You have to know which residents are willing to help. You don’t do that by introducing yourself on the phone,” Hill said. “You establish a relationship, then say let’s go.”

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