Dorchester County disaster response on council table
SUMMERVILLE -- If a hurricane strikes, can one person handle the jobs of both the emergency preparedness director and the fire coordinator?
Rich Symuleski didn't think so. He, other Dorchester County residents and a mock disaster drill convinced a skeptical County Councilman George Bailey. At tonight's Council meeting, Bailey will offer a compromise to his earlier cost-saving proposal to tie the vacant director job to the current fire coordinator's job as a cost saver. The compromise would combine the director job with an emergency planner job instead.
Bailey took part in a mock disaster drill earlier this month after hearing from residents at a council meeting. An emergency director doesn't do a lot of work day in and day out, he said, but "when you actually see the importance of that position in a hurricane or a disaster, you say, 'Whoa.' "
Bailey's proposal would save the county $48,000 per year in the planner salary, he said, not as much as his earlier proposal but still a savings. Whether a skeptical council comes around to the compromise is another question. Councilman Richard Rosebrock, one of the members who opposed the original proposal, doesn't like this one either. He wants the county's emergency office to stay intact.
"I think, with the increased population we have, we have a much bigger problem in an emergency, and I don't think we should belittle it," Rosebrock said. "We're in the path of hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes, and in the path of disasters like train wrecks. We don't know when (a disaster) might happen. When the sun's shining you don't think about emergencies. They surprise you."
Symuleski, a Coosaw Creek Disaster Preparedness Committee member, told council earlier this month that his community-response group doesn't put the two jobs in one set of hands and with hurricane season bearing down, he didn't think Dorchester County should either.
His group would have to work with the county group in a disaster.
"We're one month into hurricane season without a (county) emergency operations director. It puts us at considerable risk," he said. Fire coordinators respond to immediate crises and have to work crisis to crisis, he said. "The concern is for long-term strategic response" in hurricane recovery.
Bailey first proposed combining the two jobs during budget deliberations earlier this spring after former emergency preparedness director Dennis Clark stepped down.
Other council members also have argued it would stretch too thin any department response to a disaster.
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744 or follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bopete.