Fighting City Hall From Within: An Ongoing Series V
Matt Shorraw, Mayor, City of Monessen
The State of Monessen’s Public Safety — Part 1.
The way the City of Monessen’s Government is structured is called a commission form. Monessen became a Third Class City in 1921, under Pennsylvania’s Third Class City Code. In most cases, state laws supersede local laws, when there are conflicting causes.
In a commission form of government (of which most Third Class Cities in Pennsylvania are), each member of the council is the legislative “department head” or “commissioner” of each of the departments outlined in the governmental structure. In Monessen’s case, there are five departments, one for each of the five members of the council- including the Mayor. These departments include Public Affairs, Accounts and Finances, Parks and Public Places, Public Safety, and Streets and Public Improvements. In this structure, the Mayor is always the head of Public Affairs, but in cases where the department heads fail to act, the Mayor or the City Administrator can intercede. The other departments mentioned above are appointed by vote to the other council members. For the purposes of this article, we will be focusing on Public Safety.
The Public Safety department primarily encompasses the city’s two Fire Departments, the Code Enforcement Department, but does not include the Police Department. This department also includes overseeing the process of appointing an Emergency Management Coordinator for the city and ensuring that the city has an emergency management plan and is prepared for any type of emergency.
As any typical city has undergone numerous emergency issues over the past few years- mostly dealing with weather events. There has been an increase in severe weather events in the past few years — events such as, landslides, flooding, and even a sinkhole — arguably due to climate change and our aging infrastructure. In all cases our first responders — Monessen Police, both city fire departments, and the Mon Valley EMS — rose to the occasion as they always do; but the communication between these first responders and the city has been limited and sometimes uncoordinated. Currently, the city does not have an emergency management coordinator, because the council has not found it important enough to address the situation.
For the sake of this article, we will focus on one of the main concerns that could have the biggest impact in the public safety of Monessenites. That is the fact that the City of Monessen does not have an emergency management coordinator. This creates a huge liability for the city and an even bigger public safety hazard for the residents and businesses in Monessen.
According to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), “Pennsylvania’s Emergency Management Services Code (35 Pa. C. S. Section 7101–7707) became law in 1978 and replaced the State Council of Civil Defense Act of 1951.” “This state law requires that every county and municipal government develop and maintain an emergency management program consistent with the state and federal emergency management programs.” Currently, Monessen neither has a coordinator nor an updated emergency management plan. A valid emergency management coordinator is one who is appointed by the PA Governor, by recommendation of the municipality (in this case, the City of Monessen). The appointee needs to become certified by passing a series of intensive courses on public safety. The coordinator is an employee of the municipality and is responsible for implementing the program. This position is of the utmost importance for keeping residents safe, informed, and prepared in the case of a sudden emergency.
This position has not “officially” been filled for several years, due to retirements and a lack of political will and knowledge to reinstate the position. Recently, the vacancy has also led to both of Monessen’s fire departments losing much-needed grant funding opportunities for necessary life-saving equipment and breathing apparatus.
Some typical functions of an Emergency Management Coordinator are:
- Prepares and maintains an Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) for the city, subject to the direction of the elected officials; reviews and updates as required. Develop and keep current emergency response checklists appropriate for the emergency needs and resources of the community.
- Maintains coordination with the County Emergency Management Agency (EMA), and provides prompt information in emergencies, as available.
- Coordinates with the county EMA, and in coordination with Police, Fire, and Emergency Medical Service, identifies hazards and vulnerabilities that may affect the city; recommends mitigation measures to reduce disaster effects; participates in the County Hazard Mitigation efforts and assists in pre-disaster mitigation planning and grant submission efforts.
- Identifies resources within the City that can be used to respond to a major emergency or disaster situation and requests needed resources from the county EMA when needed.
- Develop, maintain and organize personnel, equipment, and tools to work in the city emergency operations center (EOC) when activated.
- Mobilize and manage the municipal EOC and act as the Command function within the Incident Command System (ICS) structure in the EOC during an emergency/disaster when appropriate and as directed by the City of Monessen.
- Compiles cost figures for the conduct of emergency operations and recommends budgetary allocations for annual costs.
- Attend training, workshops, and seminars provided by the county and other sources to maintain skills and currency in emergency management and emergency response planning and procedures.
- Have current appropriate plans, procedures, guidance, and laws issued by the county, PEMA and the Commonwealth available within the EOC. Have knowledge of the federal and state required plans for a city’s jurisdiction and coordinate with all applicable agencies dealing with emergencies at dams, chemical plants, schools, daycare operations, hospitals, nursing home facilities, and special events.
- Provide prompt and accurate information regarding city disasters and emergencies to the appropriate city, county, Commonwealth officials and the general public.
- Participate in all tests, drills, and exercises, including remedial drills and exercises that pertain to the city, as scheduled by the county or Commonwealth.
- Participate in the integrated flood warning systems program as applicable to the city.
- Develop mutual aid agreements, as applicable, with adjacent municipalities.
- Recommend to city officials the declaration of disaster emergencies when needed and send the signed disaster declaration to the county EMA when declared.
- Conduct damage reporting/assessment and expeditiously, when possible, within 24-hours of a disaster, provide the information to the county emergency management coordinator or the county EOC if activated.
- Respond to the location of a disaster as requested by city officials or the county emergency management coordinator.
- Attain Basic and Advanced certification in accordance with PEMA Directive 2003–5 and Title 35.
- Work with city officials to comply with the six components of the National Incident Management System (NIMS).
As you can see, there are a lot of very important duties with this role, and the appointment has been overlooked by this current council because they seem to not have the residents’ safety in mind.
In order to fix this issue, the city simply needs to identify a willing and qualified candidate for the position, make the official recommendation to the Governor, and ensure all of the points are met so that we ensure the public of safety in times of disaster, and preparedness in all other circumstances.