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W.Va. bill to change emergency services

Emergency Management Council backs adjustment to agencies

CHARLESTON — A bill changing how the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety functions has the backing of county emergency services managers.

Dean Meadows, president of the emergency management council, said Thursday Senate Bill 586 — reorganizing and re-designating the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety as the Department of Homeland Security — had the support of the emergency services community. The bill was introduced in the West Virginia Senate Wednesday.

“From the emergency management standpoint, we’re pleased with the bill,” Meadows said. “They listened to a lot of our concerns and we felt like it addressed some of our concerns.”

The new Department of Homeland Security would continue to manage the West Virginia State Police, the State Fire Marshal, the Parole Board, the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the Intelligence Fusion Center and the Division of Protective Services. The bill codifies internal changes to the department, such as the addition of an administrative office to handle payroll and human resources, a inspector general division and an administrative judge to handle grievances.

Changes include renaming the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to the Division of Emergency Management, making future division employees will-and-pleasure, and moving the West Virginia National Guard and its related boards out from the new department and making the National Guard a stand-alone agency beneath the Governor.

County emergency service directors came together last year to oppose a bill from the governor’s office that would have moved the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management permanently beneath the National Guard and moved the guard out from the Department of Military Affaiars. This time, Meadows, the director for Wyoming County Emergency Services, said the county emergency service directors had a seat at the table.

“We were in talks with the governor’s Office and (Military Affairs Secretary Jeff Sandy) before the bill was introduced,” Meadows said. “One of our main concerns was that the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management was going to be put underneath the National Guard and be made an entity of the National Guard.”

The National Guard is a great support and resources for emergency management, but for emergency management to be underneath the National Guard was putting non-military services into the military side of it, Meadows said.

“We just didn’t feel like that was a good fit,” he said.

Meadows also said county emergency services managers were concerned last year with a proposal to create a position of state resiliency officer to manage disaster and emergency response across multiple state agencies.

“That state resiliency officer was going to be appointed by the governor. He would not be confirmed by the Senate. It was almost like a lieutenant governor position,” Meadows said. “Now, the head of emergency management will be under a cabinet secretary. We felt like that would be some good checks and balances.”

A separate bill, House Bill 4401, creates the State Resiliency Office to coordinate emergency and disaster planning, response to emergencies and recovery after a disaster. The head of the agency, the state resiliency officer would answer directly to the governor’s office and be appointed with the advice and consent of the senate.

The new office would work with state agencies to ensure areas hit with natural or man-made disasters can quickly recover. It would also manage non-federal disaster and hazard mitigation grant funding.

An advisory board would assist the state resiliency officer and consist of multiple state agencies and departments, the Legislature and the West Virginia Emergency Management Council. The bill was one of several recommended earlier this year by the Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding.

“The Flood Committee invited us in, and we had a seat at that table discussing that bill,” Meadows said. “There are checks and balances with that (state resiliency officer) and now there is going to be a State Resiliency Board that’s going to be an advisory board to the SRO and we’ll have a seat on that board. We just felt really good about they’ve reached out to the counties on this SRO bill.”

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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