In an era where security concerns and terrorism threats are increasingly serious, the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners has moved to take over responsibility for emergency management activities.
Since 1997, emergency management planning within the county has been under the direction of the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office (KCSO). On April 13, however, the County Commissioners voted unanimously to shift the Department of Emergency Management from KCSO to the office of the county's chief financial officer (CFO).
County Commissioner Don Struck said the move was made for two reasons: To take the load off KCSO, and to ensure that grant funding opportunities are not lost.
Struck said the available funds are designed to help prepare for any national disaster -- including floods, fires, or terrorism.
Glen Chipman, the chief financial officer, will spend the next year organizing programs to help with grant writing.
"There is so much federal money available right now," Struck said. "I don't want to take a chance to lose that grant money. There is federal money available to hire a coordinator and consultants to write grants."
The commissioners appointed Chipman to a one-year term (April 16, 2004-April 15, 2005) as director of the county's Department of Emergency Management. Chipman will be compensated an additional $1,000 a month for the new duties.
"What do we do in the event we're under attack?" Struck said. "We need to prepare in the event of an emergency. Every county in the U.S. is looking at this kind of stuff."
Struck said emergency planning has been a monumental task. "[Sheriff] Chris Mace has been putting in 16-18 hours a day to do all he needs to get done. We offered to take that off his hands," Struck explained. "Chris was kind of relieved not to have to spend as much time on this."
Sheriff Mace agreed that the job was a big one.
"It's a huge burden off the staff and me," Mace said. "Since 9-11, I've been trying to get someone to help with this. It can become a pretty big program, and I've been trying to get funds to hire someone to help with that. Many evenings we were here until 3 or 4 in the morning."
Mace said the County Commissioners had declined to budget for additional KCSO personnel to help with emergency management planning.
"It's certainly something that needs more attention, although overall we've been successful," Mace explained. "But I thought they'd hire somebody experienced in emergency management. Now here we are going into fire season, and the Department of Emergency Management gets real busy."
Struck said there would be a comprehensive study of the county's communications systems.
"The objective is to make sure the Washington State Patrol, the different public works departments, and emergency medical services can all talk to each other from anywhere in the county," Struck explained.
Struck said the county is looking at upgrading its radio communications and cell phone systems, and adding repeater stations so agencies around the region can maintain communications.
"There are lots of dead spots in the county where people can't be in contact," Struck explained. "We need to work on our communications equipment and update emergency management plans. There is money out there for the purchase of equipment."
However, Mace pointed out that his office has already gained approval for a $440,000 grant for the 2004-2005 period, with the money going primarily to communications equipment.
"Someone spending more time might bring more money, but the money they are referring to, we've already got it," Mace explained. "Hopefully the equipment will start coming through this summer."
According to Mace, $244,000 is earmarked to go for portable radios, rescue equipment, and decontamination equipment; another $120,000 was to go to personnel; and the remainder was to be divided among several law enforcement agencies within the county.
The County Commissioners passed a resolution that listed the county's four key planning goals for the next year:
updating the county's comprehensive emergency management plan that fits the county's needs with new components addressing terrorism threats;
analyzing the infrastructure, equipment, and other needs to effectively implement the comprehensive emergency management plan;
analyzing options for long-term administration and funding of emergency management services in the county;
establishing and/or identifying a network of organizations relating to emergency management (encompassing local, state, and federal government agencies, cities, port districts, schools, fire departments, hospitals, large private sector employers, chambers of commerce, churches, and non-profit groups).