Managing behind the scenes of emergencies
September 3, 2004
It could be a hazardous spill, a flood, health alert or an earthquake. It could be a terrorist incident or an innocent accident. It could be a fire like Waterfall, which scorched the hills west of Carson City.
When it happens, you’ll see the cops, the firemen and the helicopters giving it everything they’ve got. But you’ll probably never see the folks at the Division of Emergency Management.
“We’re behind the scenes,” said Division Chief Frank Siracusa. “There’s this big misconception that we decide where the money goes, that we’re in charge when something happens. It’s not true.”
Siracusa, 55, has run the division for seven years. He has more than 30 years in the business, ranging from radiation scares and hurricanes in New Jersey to floods and wildfires in Nevada.
He said Sept. 11, 2001 put a lot more focus on emergency management – especially terrorism. Because of Homeland Security, he’s seen federal funding that passes through his agency grow from $2 million to more than $50 million a year. The money has helped implement numerous changes and improvements Siracusa has sought for a long time. Because of those efforts, agencies are now much better prepared to work together, helping each other in times of crisis.
But he said that’s led to confusion with some agencies, and a lot of civilians thinking he is in charge. Despite the fact Emergency Management is in charge of the emergency operations center, the agency doesn’t run the show in a crisis. It doesn’t spend the grant money coming into the state and doesn’t decide who does.
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“We’re a service agency behind all the other agencies when something happens.” Siracusa said they don’t run Homeland Security, aren’t in charge when there’s a fire, and don’t tell police or the military how to handle a crisis.
“We never have. We provide the emergency center, but whatever the incident is, we follow directions from the lead agency,” he said. “What we really do is whatever the experts need.”
And Emergency Management tries to help all the agencies working on an incident communicate and work together efficiently.
July’s Waterfall fire is a good example, he said. Local fire agencies and the Nevada Division of Forestry were in charge. Emergency Management provided those agencies, along with Nevada Highway Patrol, Nevada Department of Transportation, Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies with the emergency operations center so they could coordinate all activities.
And, Siracusa said, one of its key jobs is to get those in charge the equipment, services, special materials and personnel they need.
“We know what each agency has, and we have the authority under statute to mobilize state resources,” he said. “But the experts, no matter what kind of incident it is, are in charge – not us.”
And when things are quiet, Emergency Management is still a service provider. It organizes specialized training sessions – which has become even more important in the wake of Sept. 11- on anthrax and hazardous- materials scares.
It identifies funding available from the federal government and helps state agencies and local entities apply for and get grants. But as part of that, it has to make sure all the complex rules for using grant money are followed.
“We’re not in the exciting limelight,” he said. “Typically, we’re down in the basement, behind the scenes.”
Contact Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.