Montrose Police Chief Tom Chinn appealed to the council to pass the ordinance, to “help to mitigate and manage any type of emergency, disaster or civil disorder that [we] could possibly have here in Montrose.”
Councilmember Carol McDermott said she was impressed with an information booklet that Chinn provided. It showed that the city would be adopting a system that complies with the National Incident Command System, which will improve communications between agencies.
Chinn said passing the resolution would being the city in line with NEM guidelines, part of which strongly recommended that city staff, officials and elected officials take classes to familiarize themselves with the system.
“If you haven’t taken some of the NEM classes, I would strongly recommend that you take at least one, but there are several you should take,” he said. “I know these are time-consuming and very complex, but I think it would give you a basic understanding of what we’re trying to do.”
Before the resolution passed its first reading, council members discussed the many NEM courses that they appeared to be required to take, and whether they should take them at all.
Chinn said the classes would be offered somewhere in the Seventh Judicial District, and could be taken online.
But councilmember Thomas Smits objected to the idea.
“The way I look at it, our charter doesn’t require this, so how can they force us to take classes?” he said. “It’s the charter I swore to uphold.”
Mayor Kathy Ellis then asked if passing the resolution would require council members to take the NEM classes. Chinn replied that the plan states, “For the purposes of this plan it is assumed and expected that staff and appointed and elected officials of all emergency response organizations within the corporate boundaries have completed the required NEM courses.”
Chinn said the emergency plan has a matrix that is recommended, and there are about four courses that city council members should take.
Again, Smits objected.
“My concern is that it’s not an hour [long] course, and some are two days or more,” he said. “I have an issue with the federal government telling a municipality we have to comply to get our money.”
Chinn replied that he felt the language in the resolution was subjective, and the most important thing was passing the ordinance.
“It would really help untie our hands and assist us with some type of disaster that we could have at any given time,” he said. “It would help us a lot.”
Councilmember McDermott said she had already taken some of the classes, and felt they were helpful in learning about the vocabulary used by authorities in emergency situations, as well as understanding the chain of command.
“In 2001 in New York City, a lot of lives could have been saved, but different boroughs and different fire departments couldn’t talk to each other,” she said. “This is streamlined and nationwide, and it isn’t that hard. I found it very valuable.”
Councilmember Bill Patterson saw it differently.
“Having taken a class, I have to disagree,” he said. “The primary thing for elected officials is making sure you have in place a system to take care of the emergency. This requires a lot of specialized skills. Unless you are part of the team, I found it to be an exercise in futility.”
Patterson went on to say that when he was done with the class, he understood the nomenclature better, but that’s not what’s important.
What’s important, he said, is making sure the city has the resources and people identified that it needs in an emergency, and that they are trained and ready to go.
“If I want to be an emergency manager, yes, I’d need to know all these things, but as an elected official, my job is to put this manual together and make sure you do your job,” he said. “It was like going through alphabet soup when I got done, and it was just kind of like, ‘Wow.’”
After the meeting, Chinn said he agreed with Patterson, and that it’s not necessary for the city council to take all the classes.
For his officers, he said, it’s a different story, and they have all taken 98 percent of the NEM courses – far more than are required for law enforcement. He noted that McDermott and council member Gail Marvel had both taken several of the NEM classes, but for every council member to take all the recommended classes was “probably not that important.”
Chinn said he hopes the council will give the resolution final approval at its Dec. 2 meeting at second reading, because it will make a huge difference to his department.
“It gives us more flexibility to work in the system, and gives us more ability to order mandatory evacuations and to declare an emergency in the city and the state,” he said. “It also allows us to receive FEMA funding in a disaster to help the city recover losses.”