BUCKHANNON – The Upshur County Commission on Thursday voted to have their office take over the Office of Emergency Management.
Brian Shreves, the director of the Upshur County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, resigned his position to accept a new job as the director of the Office of Emergency Medical Services within West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources’ Bureau for Public Health.
This development meant the commission had to find a new director for the UCDHSEM.
Upshur County Commissioner Sam Nolte said their office had experience with emergency management because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“The one thing I realized, especially with COVID, because it’s still ongoing, and something that OEM has been directly in contact with security and testing and whatnot … is that pretty much everything was running through our office,” Nolte said at the commission’s Aug. 26 meeting. “Everything Brian did, the folks in our office, Carrie and Tabatha [county administrator Carrie Wallace and assistant county administrator Tabatha Perry] did.”
“I would like to see our office take over OEM,” Nolte added. “I think these two ladies would be excellent and would be able to handle a situation like that.”
Retired Buckhannon Fire Chief Mitch Tacy said the commissioners were giving Wallace and Perry too much to handle with the additional responsibilities on top of their jobs as county administrator and assistant county administrator, respectively.
“It’s too much – it is a full-time position – and you need someone that knows that they’re doing,” Tacy said. “I just don’t think they will have the time, and I don’t mean to be facetious, but I don’t think they have the expertise.”
Nolte disagreed, saying three people will split the workload, and they do have experience in the field.
“We have three people in our office – Carrie, Tabatha and Sheila (Adams) – so the duties are going to be split up,” Nolte said. “My idea would be an OEM director, assistant director and someone to help with administration. These ladies can get trained and take the proper courses. We’ve been going through a global pandemic for the last 18 months, something that nobody in this room has lived through, and during that time, everything has gone through our office, so to say that we can’t handle it, is untrue.”
Former part-time OEM director James Farry said they do not have experience planning for potential emergencies in advance.
“You’ve been handling it, but you have done so in a reactive way,” Farry said. “You have to take into consideration that you will have to plan for snow, floods, major fires, mass evacuation and it’s just too broad. I agree with Mitch, I have a great amount of respect for these ladies and what they’re doing, but I think you’re asking too much of them.”
Volunteer at the DHSEM Communications Office Dirk Burnside said emergency management is a unique field and requires special training.
“First of all, I have never had any desire to be an OEM director. It’s not something I want to do; I’m 67 years old and retired,” Burnside said. “Besides that, I’ve been doing emergency management volunteer work for over 40 years. I know what it takes. I’ve studied emergency management, I’ve been an EMT instructor, and I’ve been a 911 operator. I’ve done a lot of things, but it’s not the same thing [as serving as OEM director].”
He said emergency management requires constant communication, receiving updates and making changes to procedures when necessary.
“There should have been a hot wash [immediate ‘after-action’ discussion and evaluation of an agency’s performance following an exercise] after each of these events at the high school and the armory,” Burnside said. “You have to get together and evaluate what worked and what didn’t and then everybody takes those notes, and they look and say, ‘here’s how we can change our plan.’ These are all things that we need to understand with emergency management. It’s an ongoing plan and [making] sure your communications capabilities are good enough to handle disaster – it’s all a big, big job.”
Burnside said he was glad the office was willing to do such an important job.
“I appreciate that you’re taking a very, very serious look at this position, and I’m really tickled that the group you have working for you in this office would agree to take this big task on themselves, because it’s a big, big, big responsibility,” Burnside said. “I know you’re trying to do the best, but I just don’t know if you really understand the whole situation with what’s going on.”
Nolte said he had faith in his staff and made the motion to make Wallace the OEM director and Perry the assistant director.
“Brian’s last day is tomorrow (Friday, Aug. 27) at 4 p.m., so it will be effective then and of course, we will look at the appropriate training for pretty much everyone in the office to make sure we are up to the standards of what is required,” Nolte said.
Commissioner Terry Cutright seconded the motion and it passed.