Moffat County seeks emergency management coordinator
After some two months without an emergency management coordinator in Moffat County, commissioners on Tuesday approved making the position full time after it went to part time as part of past county budget cuts.
“This position was vacated back in September,” said Lynnette Siedschlaw, Moffat County’s director of human resources, on Tuesday. “It’s budgeted for a part-time position, but after some budget workshops we’ve had, we are changing it to a full-time position.”
Since Moffat County must have an acting emergency manager of some kind, Commissioner Don Cook said he has essentially been the acting emergency manager since Tom Soos’ resignation near the end of September.
“There’s a lot to this position,” Cook said Tuesday. “…I guarantee you a commissioner does not have that knowledge base.”
Since Soos’ resignation, the state of Colorado has stepped up its effort to usher in a replacement with the help of Chuck Vale, the regional field manager of at least 10 different counties for Colorado’s Office of Emergency Management.
As the emergency preparedness official in Routt County for more than 20 years, at least 10 of those years also as fire chief of the Yampa Valley Regional Airport, Vale said he has worked hard over the decades to keep Moffat and Routt Counties prepared.
“I’ve worked hard to get Moffat County’s role in disaster preparedness to where if something bad does occur, both counties are working together,” Vale said Tuesday.
But, budget constraints soon led to chopped Moffat County emergency management capabilities.
“About three years ago, the then-commissioners chose to pull the position from full time to half time,” Vale said.
Ever since, Vale said he’s been working to bring the job back to full-time status.
“The job entails so much today. It’s so complex,” Vale said. “Part-time just doesn’t cut it. When Tom chose to leave, I started working with the three commissioners, the county finance, county HR and county attorney trying to make sure we get the job back to full time and get the job description up to date.”
Now commissioners and Vale are working to find someone right for the job.
“Now the challenge is to find a person who can and wants to live in Moffat County who will take on the job and end up doing a good job,” Vale said. “At this point, we need to be hopeful. Commissioners have told me they will first attempt to advertise locally, then if we can’t find someone, we’ll go statewide.”
Whoever takes the job will have a decent salary. According to Moffat County Finance Director Mindy Curtis, commissioners have budgeted some $94,000 for the position with the help of Vale and a federal emergency management performance grant.
“The state has a grant program called the EMPG (emergency management performance grant) and FEMA supplies the money out of Washington to Colorado,” Vale said. “We receive a little over $6 million annually and we push $3.1 million of that to local governments across the state. We obviously don’t have enough out of the $3.1 million to provide adequate emergency management across all the state, so it becomes slightly competitive.”
The position could have been a source of more state and federal funding if commissioners had kept the position full time.
“Moffat County had very little several years ago, but we got them back up in 2016, I think, to $47,000 of our grant dollars,” Vale said. “Then when they started wrestling with this position, I had to back off. Moffat County wasn’t expending the amount of money I had for their grant, so I had no choice but to back away from those grant dollars. The unfortunate part is then I, the field manager, ended up losing those grant dollars to other jurisdictions across the state. Now, we are swinging the pendulum back the other way to get that money back…I’m going to do everything I can to get Moffat County up to where they should be. My goal is to get them to a really good, sound emergency management program.”
Vale said there are several areas of disaster risk Moffat County must face, especially wildfire.
“I happen to know wildfire is number one,” Vale said of the main disaster risk in Moffat County. “Flooding is the number two. Hazardous material is number three. “
But there are only two real disaster risks that make Vale lose sleep.
“There are the two things that keep me awake at night — a dam break and a commercial airline falling out of the sky,” Vale said. “…In Moffat County the Elkhead dam is one of the few what we call high-hazard dams. In other words, people live below the dam. So, that’s why we always watch those, because it’s a high hazard. That doesn’t mean anything’s wrong with the dam. It’s totally safe. The people that maintain that locally are great and the state of Colorado that inspects these for the state, they are on top of that. They inspect our dam all the time. But, there’s that risk there because people are below the dam.”
In the absence of an emergency management coordinator, Vale said Moffat County residents should be prepared to be self-sufficient for a while if a disaster does occur.
“People should have a personal, vested interested in preparing,” Vale said. “…Do you have a plan for the family? If the phones don’t work, where are we meeting? What happens if you’re separated? How are you going to react long before the county’s emergency management plan kicks in?…It boils down to being prepared yourself. Protect yourself and your family first. Don’t always depend on the government to do it for you.”
Commissioner Cook said Tuesday he’s glad the county hasn’t had any disaster requiring such immediate and coordinated action by officials in the Yampa Valley.
“The blessing here is we’ve never had any major disasters,” Cook said.
Commissioner Ray Beck said they hope to have someone on the job soon.
“Our goal is to have somebody in place by the end of January or first of February,” Beck said.
Commissioner Donald Broom also wants someone on the job soon.
“As soon as possible,” Broom said.