A MODEL TO IMPROVE EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT

BY CLAYTON H. HAWKINS

WITH natural and manmade disasters ever-present threats, governmental agencies are being pressed to implement emergency preparedness and management programs that will streamline communications and improve decision making. The experience of Calaveras County, California, and its development of a Multiagency Coordinating Group (MAC) may be an example of how new decision-making models can improve emergency management and maximize intraagency communications and cooperation.

JURISDICTIONAL REPRESENTATION

The ability to coordinate timely, accurate, and integrated communications into incident management decision making is difficult. Whether an emergency incident involves a single agency or a multitude of agencies, good management and decision making are often affected by the way agencies are able to work and communicate with each other.

Take California, for example. Each summer, the state is plagued with large-scale wildland fires. These fires affect not only local government but also a wide variety of state and federal agencies. How can these agencies simultaneously compete for resources, represent their agency’s interest, and participate in incident decision making while still keeping focus on the emergency at hand? The answer is not simple. However, as large-scale disasters like wildland fires continue to recur, more emphasis is being directed toward improving interagency communications and integrated decision making.

THE CALAVERAS COUNTY MULTIAGENCY COORDINATING GROUP

Calaveras County is a rural county that is a three-hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area. The county is about 1,100 square miles and has a population of about 38,000. Like other counties in the state’s rural unincorporated areas, Calaveras County experiences several large wildland fires each summer.

Because of the county’s geographic location, wildland fires affect a number of agencies. Each agency plays a different role. The agencies’ ability to communicate and coordinate tasks uniformly needed improvement. Intraagency communications needed streamlining, and we had to move toward more coordinated decision making. To accomplish these objectives, a number of county agencies banded together to develop a Multiagency Coordinating Group (MAC), a management and decision-making team that would address issues such as setting boundaries for wildfires, evacuation planning, and other goals and objectives for the emergency operation. The local incident management teams would continue to manage the fires and conduct emergency operations but would do so consistent with the incident’s goals and objectives as established by the MAC.

REPRESENTATION IN THE MAC

The Calaveras County MAC is comprised of representatives from the California Department of Forestry, the County Sheriff’s Office, the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans), the Calaveras County Fire Department, the County Administrative Office, the County Office of Emergency Services, the U.S. Forest Service, the City of Angels Camp, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), the California Highway Patrol, and the Calaveras County Water District. Each of the MAC members acts not only as an agency representative but also as a liaison to other similar groups in the county. Calaveras County Fire, for example, acts as a liaison to the county’s local fire districts, and County OES coordinates activities with county operating departments.

Representation to the MAC is limited to agency administrators so that decision making is expedient and integrated. For purposes of the MAC, agency administrators include those who have jurisdictional responsibility, are capable of spending money, and are empowered to make decisions on behalf of their agency.

BENEFITS AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE MAC

Calaveras County may be a textbook example of an area needing a MAC because of the recurring nature of large-scale wildland fires and the multijurisdictional nature of the region. Because of these factors, a small interagency working group was formed in 1992 to look at emergency planning and to develop a MAC. That effort was successful in not only developing the MAC but also in taking a new look at emergency preparedness and improving the system.

To reinforce MAC’s role and responsibility, a charter and a formal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) were developed and signed by each of the participating agencies. According to the MOU, the roles of the Calaveras County MAC are threefold: (1) to set multiagency objectives for disaster response, (2) to establish priorities, and (3) to allocate scarce resources.

While not intended to usurp the authority of any single jurisdictional agency, the MAC attempts to provide countywide coordinated decision making in an attempt to improve overall incident management. Individual agencies still retain authority to manage their incidents and jurisdictions.

The MAC meets every other month to review emergency plans, evaluate ongoing risk, and conduct periodic tabletop exercises. The latter has proved particularly helpful in making MAC participants more familiar with the multiagency decision-making process and improving the group’s performance during an actual emergency.

The MAC has successfully coordinated the efforts of several agencies during emergency incidents in the county. Whether it was the continued frequency of incidents or the willingness to explore new territory that drew the agencies together, the MAC is one example of how emergency management can be improved by pursuing better communications and more integrated decision making.

CLAYTON H. HAWKINS is the director/chief officer for the Calaveras County (CA) Fire Department and Office of Emergency Services. He has a B.S. degree in business administration from the University of Redlands and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of San Francisco and has completed undergraduate certificates in environmental law, industrial hygiene management, and environmental health and safety. He is also a graduate of the University of California Davis Executive Program.

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