For 26 years, Fayetteville, Georgia, native John Elfer has been committed to being a full-time public servant.
“I have always wanted to just help people as much as I can,” Elfer said. “I like the emergency response piece of this area of work. I love getting out in the field and doing operations. That is what I enjoy doing the most. I enjoy the administrative duties the least of this job.”
After graduating high school in 1990, Elfer made his way to the University of Southern Mississippi to pursue a degree in criminal justice. While attending the university he received a scholarship from the Army. It was there that Elfer was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the military police.
Elfer felt the calling for emergency response when in 1992 he was hired as a part-time University of Southern Mississippi police dispatcher. The love for “catching bad guys,” as he put it, led him to attend the police academy in 1994. He completed his degree at USM in 1995, but he did not leave Hattiesburg right away.
“When I graduated from Southern, I began working at the Hattiesburg Police Department,” Elfer said. “I met a girl from Vicksburg. One thing led to another, and I found my way to Vicksburg.”
Arriving in Vicksburg in 1998, Elfer did not leave his law enforcement skills in Hattiesburg. He began protecting and serving the citizens of Warren County as a sheriff’s deputy where he remained until 2011. He has called Vicksburg his home now for over 20 years.
Although his main background is in law enforcement, he got his emergency management experience while serving in the Reserve National Guard during Hurricane Katrina.
“I actually rode the storm out with the Harrison County Emergency Management Agency,” Elfer said. “I was a military police captain assigned to be a liaison between the Guard and Harrison County to manage resources and requests.”
Elfer was appointed by the Warren County Board of Supervisors to be director of the Warren County Emergency Management Agency in 2011, which was in the middle of one of the worst Mississippi River floods our area had seen in decades. Elfer also serves as floodplain administrator, as The Warren County Emergency Management Agency issues permits along with handling floodplain management.
“In this role, I’m not the guy driving the fire truck or the police car anymore,” Elfer said. “I now coordinate that response and make sure those guys and gals know exactly where to go and what to do once they get there.”
When asked to tell a story or time that has really stuck with him throughout his nearly three-decade career, without hesitation he said, “The 2019 Backwater Flood.”
It was Elfer and the agency team that led the charge in flood relief efforts for the devastating backwater flood that affected over 500,000 acres of land and hundreds of homes.
“This past flood was a shining moment for our office and all of our partners,” Elfer said. “I was pleased with how we managed the efforts. We got out front earlier.”
Establishing and maintaining an emergency response was the easy part, Elfer said, but WCEMA along with local partners did much more than emergency response.
“We helped a lot of people,” Elfer said. “We got those affected connected with (the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency) and worked with local partners for temporary housing assistance. We also coordinated all-volunteer groups that came in to tear down houses and help people clean their yard up” after the floodwaters receded.
Elfer, 48, mentioned his office has not slowed down since 2018 on flood efforts and even into this new year, recovery efforts are ongoing. He is quick to say that he owes his success to the people he works with.
“Our office really excels in coordinating and networking,” Elfer said. Anybody that sits in a chair behind a desk that thinks they can do it all by themselves—good luck. The only way you can be successful is to create and build relationships. That is what makes things happen.”
This is the first of a series of stories from the Vicksburg Daily News profiling men and women who work as first responders, supervisors and behind the scenes in organizations dedicated to serving the community in times of danger and crises: Those who keep us safe.