Learning the emergency management ropes
Ryan Peabody, Emergency Management Coordinator for Orange County, looks at a computer screen inside the Emergency Operations Center at the Orange County Expo and Convention Center. He has been on the job for nearly 10 months and working on various projects and grants. RECORD PHOTO: David Ball
David Ball – For The Record
Ryan Peabody, Emergency Management Coordinator for Orange County, has been on the job for nearly 10 months. In that time he has been busy working on rebuilding a citizens’ emergency notification system for the county, learning emergency management, receiving conference calls from the National Weather Service in Lake Charles every week, funding for a $1.4 million radio tower project at no cost to the county, building relations with mass medical care, and response capacity with the U.S. Coast Guard.
“Ninety percent of my job deals with policy and legal matters; 10 percent is emergency response,” he said.
“County Judge Brint Carlton recruited me for my legal and policy expertise in these very matters. In addition, I have completed all mandated certifications provided by the state at no cost,” Peabody said.
“I’m here because the judge recruited me for the job. I want to make a positive impact on the community with my expertise. It’s unique to have a licensed attorney in this position, and Orange County will continue to greatly benefit.”
He added Carlton works more than 70 hours each week on the job and he’s available to emergency operations, 24/7. In return, Carlton wants to remain informed of any emergency situation.
Peabody has a law degree from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. That was where he met Carlton. Peabody’s area of specialization is estate and business planning, particularly contracts.
He said the environment has changed so much pertaining to state and federal regulations for emergency management.
“I want to create cost-effective solutions while maintaining the health and safety of the county,” Peabody said.
He also serves as the department head for risk management and the airport.
The Emergency Management Coordinator position falls under federal guidelines and he’s on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The office uses the Incident Command System, used by federal and state emergency management, which can either respond to multi-hazard expanding incidents or smaller incidents as needed. For instance, a small pipeline spill or a large scale hurricane.
The system also is to coordinate assets more than Orange County itself can handle.
“ICS is about the mechanics of a response; not the disaster,” he said. “I’ve been analyzing disaster contracts and contracts reimbursed by FEMA. I am re-evaluating contracts to potentially save the county a lot of money.”
Part of Peabody’s job is to build relations with other emergency management coordinators, police chiefs and fire chiefs in the region. He added he’s a “big fan” of Orange County Sheriff Keith Merritt who has gone “above and beyond” in assisting the department. In addition, he has developed relations with industry on Chemical Row and he has developed an evacuation and re-entry plan for residences and businesses.
Peabody added his department will see a significant increase in training for the remainder of the year.
The Emergency Operations Center Peabody heads up includes a data room, showers, washers and dryers, and a kitchen- everything needed for a riding out a storm and recovery time.
The Incident Command Team will enter EOC in the event of an emergency. They can receive national news and local news there and link the computer screens to television screens. They can also video-link with anyone.
“We’re tracking everything. Safety is our first priority, safety for our first responders and our citizens. We (Orange County) are the only one with this extensive of an EOC in the region.
There is also a policy room in the EOC for elected officials, chiefs and sheriffs in order to make decisions.
“Our goal is to create an effective, sustainable system,” Peabody said.
The EOC can control power through generators and a control room, and the water to the facility with a well on the grounds.
Furthermore, the EOC is entirely paid for by renting the ballroom at the Orange County Expo and Convention Center.
Brian Shajari, Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator, was hired about a month ago from the U.S. Coast Guard where he also worked in ICS.
He has been working on grant proposals and daily tasks.
As with Peabody, Shajari wants to do everything he can that’s cost effective for the county.
He said his top four goals for his job is to train county employees in incident response so they can go on “cruise control” if something happens, ensure Homeland Security grant funding is still coming in to the county and meeting needed requirements, maintaining what the emergency management department currently has and additional training this winters, and interagency cooperation throughout Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana.
“This is what I’ve done in the Coast Guard. I’m loving my job and I’m happy to be here,” Shajari said.
Peabody said any Orange County citizens who would like discuss emergency management issues, he would like to speak with them.
“Just call me or set up an appointment,” he said.
He also wants to bring in more federal dollars to Orange County.
“We have a great community. I want to support it any way I can,” Peabody said. “I’ve purchased a home in Orange. I’ve felt very welcome and I’ve made Orange County my home.”