City partners with county for emergency management

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published October 30, 2012

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With the layoff of its emergency services manager earlier this year, the city is turning to the county for assistance.

On Oct. 16, administrators introduced a code amendment that would allow Sterling Heights to participate in the Macomb County Emergency Management Program in lieu of duplicating the efforts on the municipal level.

In his presentation to City Council, Sterling Heights Police Capt. Tom Fett explained that the duties of the city’s emergency services manager — whose position was among dozens of layoffs in the 2012-13 budget — was transferred to police personnel, resulting in a $70,000 savings.

The Police Department oversaw such duties prior to the hiring of the first city emergency manager in 1989, he said, so what’s occurring now “is not a new concept.”

“The next step in this process is to consolidate services with the Macomb County Office of Emergency Management,” he said. “This consolidation is a logical step, as many of the emergency management functions require close coordination with the county’s Emergency Management Office.”

Since most funding for emergency initiatives are “pass-through grants,” passed from the state to the county, and finally, to the city, this partnership will likely streamline the process, reducing the amount of expended time and resources, added Fett.

Leading up to the partnership’s execution, the outgoing city emergency services manager met with the county’s emergency management coordinator, Vicki Wolber, to ensure that service “would not be compromised but, in fact, maintained and, in some cases, strengthened and expanded due to the greater resources available,” said Fett.

Fett, now the city’s emergency management liaison, will continue to oversee some of the duties performed through the now-defunct city emergency services manager position, while Fire Training Chief Rob Duke and City Development Manager Denice Gerstenberg will assist with day-to-day operations and act as backup.

The city’s responsibilities will include, but are not limited to, maintaining and activating warning sirens, conducting radio tests, and overseeing the city’s Community Emergency Response Team and Volunteers in Police Service programs.

The city also will be in charge of maintaining its Emergency Operations Center, a centralized command site for large-scale incidents, distributing medication in the event of a widespread medical situation and conducting annual “tabletop exercises,” training scenarios that mimic a major event, such as a flood or attack.

The county’s responsibilities, among others, include acting as its partner communities’ representation on various local, regional and statewide boards and groups, including a Macomb County Local Planning Team, which decides how to allocate grant funding.

Regardless of which entity is formally assigned to which tasks, both parties will collaborate on many aspects and ensure compliance with state and federal mandates, said Fett.

Responding to inquiries from council members at the meeting, Wolber said Sterling Heights personnel could be pressed into service in a major incident, “but the mutual aid agreements you already have as a city now exist,” she explained. “We would use those, as well, at the county level. We have other mutual aid agreements. But, obviously, that would be done in consultation with city leadership.”

Michigan’s Emergency Management Act permits municipalities with populations in excess of 25,000 use the county’s emergency management coordinator instead of appointing their own internally, and Wolber said Macomb County already has a similar emergency management partnership with 22 other municipalities.

According to the Macomb Office of Emergency Management, Clinton Township and Warren are the only municipalities that continue to have their own internal employees dedicated to emergency management.

While it was a perk to have an internal emergency manager when it was economically feasible, that’s not longer the case, said Fett.

“It’s really a consolidation of, let’s cut out the middle man and let’s just work together on this instead of us funding an emergency manager position,” he said.

According to Fett, much progress has been made since the duties were transferred to the Police Department. He outlined a number of advances, including reorganization of the CERT team; inspection and inventory of the Emergency Operations Center equipment, with repair or replacement of any non-functional equipment; and updates to the city’s website to reflect new and pertinent emergency information.

The amendment is slated for formal adoption at council’s next meeting, which will be held Nov. 7 instead of Nov. 6, due to the general election.

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