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Emergency preparedness duties to be handled by police
J. Jacob Edel
Mercer Island Reporter
Senior officers of the Mercer Island Police Department will become the city’s new emergency preparedness coordinators, rotating a new officer into the position every five years.
Last Monday, the City Council unanimously approved making a full-time officer the city’s emergency preparedness director. The police chief will now appoint an officer to the job and hire a new officer in the department as the replacement.
The new emergency preparedness position will be rotated among officers every five years, as the department does with all of its speciality training programs. Similarly, the department rotates its D.A.R.E. officer, school resource officer and the marine patrol unit. The new position will be called the emergency management officer.
The city has been without an emergency preparedness coordinator since Rebecca Clark left to work in Bellevue late last year. After she left, Clark told police chief Ed Holmes that her position was a part-time job, but it entailed a full-time workload. Other cities listed by Holmes also use fire department officials as their directors.
While Holmes did say none of his top five picks had specific experience heading an emergency preparedness program, all officers receive emergency response training and have the authority to direct resources. Holmes told the Councilmembers he wanted to hire an officer instead of a civilian for the job because it enabled the department to piggy-back crime prevention with emergency preparedness.
“The one piece I think we continue to miss in this department is that it does not do as well with crime prevention,” Holmes said. “With somebody dedicated to preparing people all the time, we can overlay that message with the emergency preparedness message.”
Councilmember Mike Cero said mixing crime prevention and emergency preparedness troubled him because of the amount of work needed. Cero said he was also worried that the officer would get sidetracked dealing with crimes, not preparing the city for the worst.
“I am a little worried that this person may get ‘nickeled and dimed’ on non-emergency management issues. I also think there is a lot of work for one person for a long time,” he said.
Chief Holmes stated that he would ultimately be accountable to ensure the officer works on getting the city prepared and communicating the necessary messages to the citizens.
The city hired its first full-time emergency preparedness coordinator in 1995 and has had three since then. The fire department will retain 25 percent of the workload, in preparation for hazardous materials and biological outbreaks.
The Council appropriated $82,000 for the city to pay and train the new director, and other start up costs.
Councilmember El Jahncke said he supported the city’s proposal because emergency preparedness is defined as the number-one priority.
“This is the city’s highest priority, and we should look at this proposal as such,” Jahncke said.