Olympia Fire Chief Todd Carson and Deputy Chief Michael Buchanan presented the updated Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan (CEMP), which provides a framework for response and recovery activities during an emergency, at Tuesday's city council study session.
He said the updated version aligns with the federal comprehensive emergency management guide and state and county. They update the CEMP every five years.
Buchanan, who also sits as Emergency Management Program coordinator, explained that the CEMP defines the policies and procedures necessary for carrying out an emergency management program that ensures the preservation of lives, protection of property and the execution of special measures.
The Emergency Management Program (EMP) is a division of the Olympia Fire Department, The fire chief serves as the director. The deputy chief is assigned to do the program coordination.
The EMP's tasks are to plan, prepare, and respond to recover from the effects of a disaster.
Since assuming the role of emergency management coordinator in August, Buchanan said his primary focus has been maintaining important components of the program – one is keeping the CEMP current.
Knowing hazards to deal with them
He said his other focus is updating the city's hazard mitigation plan.
Buchanan has been involved in a Thurston County workgroup focused on creating a hazard mitigation plan. This plan aims to identify potential hazards, assess their impact on the community, develop strategies to improve infrastructure and plan to better prepare for these hazards.
Buchanan emphasized that having an up-to-date hazard mitigation plan is crucial to obtaining grant funds for improving the city's infrastructure. He said the city granted a federal fund – Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) under the Hazard Mitigation Grant program – for $1.1 million.
"They realized our hazard mitigation plan was outdated, not due to our fault, but the county's work. We have to complete our work so they can resubmit that to get the infrastructure grant," Buchanan said.
He said the EMP division manages large or complex emergencies that can be long-lasting. That would call for activating the Emergency Operations Center (EOC).
Buchanan said the tidal flooding that happened in December had the potential to activate the EOC. "But that event was over in an hour and a half. By the time we had stood up the EOC, the event was quickly over. If this lasted six hours, we would have stood up [EOC]."
According to Buchanan, the decision to open the EOC is ultimately made by the city manager and fire chief. When the decision is made, an alert is sent to notify the Emergency Management Committee, who gather at station 1.
The EOC manager, likely the deputy chief, will gather information and create an incident action plan to best support the situation. The updated CEMP provides a framework for response and recovery activities during an emergency and specifies the duties of each city department and the supporting agencies.
Buchanan claimed they conducted a strength and weakness analysis of the program.
He said the strengths of the program lie in the foundation built by previous emergency managers. As a result, the city's emergency managementplan has achieved state and federal compliance.
He added that Olympia has been a key partner in regional emergency management in planning, training, and exercises.
However, Buchanan added that the in the last 18 months, the EMP has had two new deputy chiefs, including him, with limited capacity and emergency management experience assigned to this program. "It is a discipline. There are processes. There are grants. It is a little bit of getting up to speed with that."
What happens if voters approve the proposed RFA?
He said if the OFD becomes part of an RFA, the EM coordinator may be reassigned to another city department who would coordinate with the regional fire authority.
The deputy fire chief cited some other cities that assigned the emergency position to public works personnel with a strong incident command background who may serve as emergency managers. Some cities appointed police chiefs for the role, while others simply delegated executive-level emergency management responsibilities to an EM position. It is also possible to have all city personnel report directly to the city manager, similar to how communications are currently structured.
"I don't have a suggestion or a recommendation. But I know that it's done in different ways," Buchanan said.
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