Santa Barbara County has declared disaster emergencies about 20 times in the past decade, and the Emergency Operations Center has been activated 56 times, according to County Executive Officer Mona Miyasato.
Miyasato decided to move oversight of the Office of Emergency Management to the county Fire Department — which has its headquarters adjacent to the Emergency Operations Center — starting Feb. 1.
Emergency management previously was a division of the County Executive Office, and the change is meant to increase the level of coordination and communication among emergency response agencies, Miyasato told Noozhawk.
“Our Office of Emergency Management director and team are highly effective, and our current fire chief and his leadership staff are visionary and collaborative, so the time seems right to combine the two to ensure we have the best chance of facing the increasing frequency of emergencies and disasters,” she said.
The county executive officer is still the director of emergency services (and can declare local disaster emergencies), but the day-to-day management support and oversight of OEM will transfer to the Fire Department.
OEM Director Kelly Hubbard will report directly to Fire Chief Mark Hartwig, and the Fire Department will oversee OEM’s yearly budget.
Hubbard and OEM still will coordinate with the County Executive Office on plans that affect multiple departments, partner agencies and disaster recovery.
Emergency management staff operate the readysbc.org website with preparedness information; manage emergency alerts; coordinate emergency response for disasters such as wildfires, oil spills, floods and debris flows; and provide disaster recovery information.
The division has a $3.1 million budget and seven employees, including Hubbard and three emergency managers, a business specialist and technical specialists.
There are other changes coming to the county Fire Department.
The Board of Supervisors approved a plan to consolidate countywide fire and medical dispatch into one regional communications center, which will be built at the Emergency Operations Center site, 4408 Cathedral Oaks Road, near Fire Department headquarters.
The county Fire Department also has a pending application to become the ambulance services contractor for the county.
A review panel chose American Medical Response, the current provider, to continue as the county’s contractor, and Hartwig, the fire chief, appealed that decision.
No final decision had been made on the contract as of early February.