CHARLESTON, W.Va. — First responders from around West Virginia voted unanimously today to oppose a proposal that could establish a State Resiliency Officer and legally place the state Emergency Management agency under management of the National Guard.
The Intelligencer newspaper of Wheeling covered the meeting of West Virginia’s Emergency Management Council, which was in Moundsville.
The emergency managers expressed their position on a bill anticipated to be considered during an upcoming special legislative session.
West Virginia’s 911 Council, which is separate but has overlapping members, voted earlier this month in opposition.
They’re concerned about the National Guard’s level of authority, whether the process for hiring personnel is too loose, who would oversee how grant dollars are used and how much authority would be in the hands of the State Resiliency Officer.
“We need to solidify our positions today,” Dean Meadows, president of the Emergency Management Council, was quoted as saying.
“We’ve got to have all 55 counties on the same page for this. I would just like for a group of us to be together.”
Emergency managers from around the state expressed concern.
“They’re trying to militarize all of this, and we’re civilians,” Cindy Hart, who serves as Randolph County’s 911 and emergency management director, was quoted by the newspaper.
“I have good friends in the military, but if I wanted to be within a military presence, I would’ve done it 30 years ago. I work for the community. I work for the citizens.”
West Virginia Emergency Management Director Michael Todorovich attended the meeting. He tried to assuage concerns about effects of the proposal.
Over the past six months, the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management has operated under the authority of the West Virginia National Guard.
Gov. Jim Justice made that declaration via memorandum last Oct. 3.
“Disjointed plans at a strategic level, can significantly degrade the integration and synchronization of the disaster response,” Justice wrote.
Justice wrote that West Virginia needs to have a comprehensive and coordinated response effort.
“The Adjutant General’s Department is uniquely positioned with the personnel, equipment and experience to serve in such a role,” Justice wrote.
The governor wrote that the move would eventually become law.
“I will work with my staff to introduce legislation which will make permanent these actions and will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management,” he wrote.
The bill passed the state Senate during the most recent legislative session but didn’t make it out of the House Government Organization Committee.
So its effects remain part of public discussion.