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Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Clark leaves big shoes to fill

Mercer Island Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Rebecca Clark is transferring to the City of Bellevue for a full-time position, leaving a hefty workload behind her.

The part-time coordinator has played a crucial role in the city for a year and a half, pushing the Island’s emergency preparedness program to a new level. The Mercer Island Police Department will take over Clark’s responsibilities until the city finds a new emergency preparedness coordinator.

City Manager Rich Conrad said, due to the job’s growing importance, the city is hoping to hire a full-time employee to replace Clark.

“It’s my intention to recommend that the position be funded full-time,” Conrad said. “The finance director and I will find money in the existing approved budget to hire someone full-time through 2008 and thereafter.”

Until they do, Deputy Firefighter Chris Tubbs will be helping the police department continue Clark’s work.

“We have every intention of keeping momentum and moving forward, and there’s plenty of work to be done.” Conrad said. “There’s plenty of work to be done.”

Tubbs is well cut out for the job, having worked closely with Clark throughout her tenure as emergency preparedness coordinator.

“Tubbs is the most incredible individual. He’s been one of the best people in my career to work with. We were definitely a collaborative team,” said Clark, who is busy cleaning up her desk.

Clark’s last day in office is Dec. 30, and until then, her responsibilities are numerous as ever.

“I have been devoted to pushing most of [my projects] forward: the neighborhood preparedness program, emergency training, drills and management, the final state reimbursement for last year’s wind storm — which we just received — meeting with neighborhood jurisdictions and residents,” Clark said.

Indeed, the emergency coordinator has had her plate full, working extra hours on a half-time salary. And this, Clark admitted, is her main reason for leaving Mercer Island.

“It’s a better choice not for me but for Mercer Island. By having a void in my position, there will be a re-evaluation of management priorities for MI,” she said. “I really felt like I could do the community a better service by leaving then by staying and continuing to Band-Aid everything.”

Clark first began working as MI emergency coordinator in 2005, filling in for outgoing manager Dee Totten. The post had been established 12 years earlier, following the 1993 Inauguration Day Storm.

Last year’s December storm, which left the Island without power for more than a week, was yet another wake up call. With Clark and Tubbs at the helm, the city’s fire and police department worked around the clock to help the Island’s residents and businesses. The record-breaking storm also pushed the city’s neighborhood preparedness program up a notch. Clark hopes the momentum will keep going.

“We’ve started to find that since the wind storm, community citizens are rearing to go and revitalize the [neighborhood preparedness program],” Clark said. “But when you’ve got a position responsible for so many functions, it’s difficult to feed the fire.”

Yet there are a number of community members still shoveling the coals.

Islander Patti Darling, who ran for City Council this past election, is one of the Island’s most active proponents of the neighborhood preparedness program. And although she was not elected onto next year’s city council, the 72-year-old will not slow down her efforts for a safer community.

“There are 288 defined neighborhoods on Mercer Island, and about one third are organized,” Darling said. “This is my main purpose, to organize neighborhoods.”

For the past several months, Darling has been rallying Mercer Island residents to organize and educate themselves in emergency preparedness. She has already established a basic outline of goals: ensure that each neighborhood has a safety kit; encourage residents to take a class on emergency preparedness; spread the word on city services and hotlines such as 311, the new City Hall “non-emergent” call number. Her overall aim is to make sure that every one of the Island’s neighborhoods has a plan. To get citizens to care.

“People are a little too complacent, they don’t understand what preparedness is,” Darling said. “I don’t criticize the city at all. But it’s hard to convince people that there’s the possibility of an emergency.”

Conrad echoed this point: “I’m fully confident that the city is ready to prepare for a storm, even with Rebecca leaving. Our most challenging work is to keep the vision and message alive within residents.”

The city manager went on to say that Clark was an asset to the city, and that her devotion to the job would be sorely missed.

“We’re sorry to hear her go but we understand why,” he said.

Reflecting on her last days with the city, Clark reciprocated this sentiment.

“I loved working at Mercer Island — the community, the staff. It was a great job and a welcoming atmosphere. I want to say thank you to the community for this experience.”

For more information on the Community Preparedness Program go to: www.mercergov.org/npp.

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