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Local News

County Puts Retired Public Safety Officials to Work on Disaster-Preparedness Plan

Two recently retired Santa Barbara County public safety officials have been tapped to help set up a special disaster-preparedness plan, highlighting where future funding might be needed most.

Former Acting Undersheriff Don Patterson and former county Fire Chief Michael Dyer began new part-time jobs this month within the Office of Emergency Management, putting decades of experience to work after stepping away from full-time positions earlier this year.

Both are working on an hourly basis to create a jurisdictional Threat Hazard Identification Risk Assessment, which will provide the county with a road map to understand risks it might face from natural, technological and human-caused threats and hazards.

Each will be paid $60 an hour, salaries that will be offset by a U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant.

The county Board of Supervisors approved the extra help for the Office of Emergency Management earlier this year, allocating $75,000 from 2014 grant funds for employment contracts that are limited to 960 hours of service through April 2016.

The OEM requested assistance from Patterson and Dyer to make more informed decisions on a plan of action, arguing that while third-party contractors could be hired to do the work, quotes ranged from $125,000 to $220,000. Not to mention the fact that most contractors lack the same level of local knowledge.

Patterson and Dyer, who each boast more than 36 years of public safety experience, told Noozhawk they accepted the task to give back to the county, since the THIRA document will be used to show funding gaps that could be filled in the future with federal grants.

They put their own private consulting careers on hold to begin working 20 to 25 hours a week with OEM on the THIRA, a first-of-its-kind local document the pair will complete in conjunction with a separate disaster-preparedness plan the county updates every five years.

Patterson said that plan, the Santa Barbara County Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan, deals almost exclusively with natural disasters, including earthquakes, floods, fires, avalanches and animal disease.

The THIRA goes a step further, he said, identifying infrastructure that could be damaged (a dam failure, for example), impacted resources (like water or transportation), response threats or hazards, and the desired level of response capabilities compared to existing and targeted capabilities.

Higher-populated jurisdictions across California and the country have already adopted THIRA documents, which in the next two or three years will be used to determine which areas get federal grants — a shift, since grants are currently doled out based on population, not according to perceived threats and hazards.

“Of course, you know drought is going to be a big part of this plan,” Dyer said. “We’re also looking at climate change. Obviously, we have a lot of experience in our various disciplines. We’re going to bring our experience and expertise to development of this document. This is really a forward leading step by this operational area.”

Patterson especially has a wealth of knowledge, since he’s spent nearly his whole career in Santa Barbara, said Dyer, who moved locally from Los Angeles six years ago.

The project will involve community outreach to government agencies countywide, as well as to the public and private sectors.

“We probably know 90 percent of the players,” Patterson added. “They’re going to trust us much more than outside consultants. Our goal is to have this document 95 percent done by the end of the summer.”

He said they plan to submit the final THIRA document for review next spring.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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