Due to significant manager turnover, the Office of Emergency Management has several organizational issues to fix

When wildfires, floods, or other local disaster exhaust regional resources, they call upon the state to step in and help remedy the situation.

As it stands now, that lifeline could be in jeopardy after a state audit determined that the Oregon Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is not fully prepared to handle a major disaster.

The audit found that significant management turnover and vacancies has led to a number of organizational problems. Among these was the lack of a completed emergency management plan, which could delay relief efforts and decrease recovery effectiveness.

“The Office of Emergency Management needs to resolve its deep-seated organization issues immediately and make sure that Oregon is fully prepared for a major disaster,” said Secretary of State Kate Brown. “Anything less is inexcusable.”

Locally, City of Prineville and Crook County officials and law enforcement staff have completed emergency management plans that outline what each entity will do in the event of a disaster. While they meet regularly to keep abreast of those plans and fine-tune them, the absence of reliable help could create problems.

Crook County Emergency Manager Michael Ryan explained the issue by chronicling each step taken during a wildfire, the most common disaster the community faces.

“We dispatch our local resources, in other words Crook County Fire and Rescue. Once they get to the level of not having enough resources to deal with the fire, they call Deschutes County 911 and request one or more task forces.”

Ryan explained that a task force for wildfire is a set number of different types of fire apparatus. Five such task forces are shared between Deschutes, Crook, and Jefferson counties.

“If that fire gets beyond what the task forces can handle, the local incident commander has to make a decision. Can we pull in a few more resources and get this under control or are we quickly moving to the next (state) level?”

Once the state steps in, Ryan said they coordinate resources from all over Oregon to help deal with the disaster. Meanwhile they help with evacuations as well as medical and shelter needs.

“While we are prepared to deal with things like evacuations and rescue, we are not prepared to deal with it on a massive scale,” Ryan said. “OEM not being able to respond to us in a timely fashion with resources is a huge problem. It leaves us local managers hanging.”

While the OEM is facing some challenges, they have recently filled all of their management positions, news that Secretary Brown called encouraging.

“The next step,” she said, “is to get the rest of the agency in order so it can successfully support our front-line disaster responders — local governments.”

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