Albemarle County wants to shift from a regional emergency management coordinator to a county-specific staff member.
Currently, the Charlottesville-UVa-Albemarle Office of Emergency Management is a division within the regional Emergency Communications Center and is proportionally funded by the City of Charlottesville, the University of Virginia and Albemarle.
County staff are recommending that Albemarle instead establish an Emergency Management Division within the county’s Department of Fire Rescue and hire an emergency management coordinator.
“We feel that in the county, we’ve gotten to the size and complexity that we need someone that can be solely focused on the county priorities when it comes to emergency management activities,” Albemarle County Fire and Rescue Chief Dan Eggleston said.
In a memo to county executive staff, Eggleston said the city and UVa often have to deal with sporting and entertainment events, while Albemarle experiences the “high majority” of wide-scale natural and man-made emergencies such as large brush fires, aircraft crashes and weather related events.
The ECC management board is scheduled to discuss the proposal at its meeting on Monday, and the county Board of Supervisors is scheduled to potentially authorize the proposed division and position at its meeting on Wednesday.
The ECC hired a new executive director this summer, after a long search and one director quitting. The center has also had issues with staffing dispatchers.
The emergency management coordinator position is currently vacant. Allison Farole, who had been in the position since 2017, recently left to go work in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“That sparked a lot of the conversations in this initiative, quite frankly, to say let’s think about doing it this way,” Eggleston said.
The regional office of emergency management has two full time employees — an emergency management coordinator and an assistant emergency coordinator who report to the director of the regional ECC.
The county also is recommending that the ECC not fill the emergency management coordinator position, but keep the assistant emergency management coordinator position to help coordinate regional initiatives.
UVa has an emergency management staff, and Tom Berry is currently the executive director of emergency management for the Department of Safety and Security at UVa. Berry temporarily served as the ECC’s interm executive director earlier this year.
Charlottesville Fire Chief Andrew Baxter is the city’s designated coordinator of emergency management and is the primary point of contact with the regional emergency management coordinator at the ECC.
The county would partially fund its emergency coordinator position with the county’s share of the position at the ECC, if the ECC Management Board approves it. The total annual ongoing cost for this position is estimated to be $102,000, according to county documents.
Eggleston said the county isn’t giving up on the regional approach.
The county is also proposing to start a Regional Emergency Management Technical Advisory Committee. Membership would be made up of emergency management representatives from Charlottesville, UVa and Albemarle. The mission of the REMTAC will be to strategically coordinate planning and resources to better prepare the region for natural, technological and/or man-made disasters, according to officials.
The committee would be similar to what Harrisonburg, Rockingham County and James Madison University do, Eggleston said. The committee would look at long range initiatives at the regional level and lay out a plan.
“We’ve done some of that, Allison did a lot of that before she left, but I think it’s an opportunity for us to us to play a more proactive role in that and be smarter about forecasting what our regional needs and initiatives might be,” he said.