Local Emergency Management Agencies are in place in 88 counties in Ohio. They each have a director and are designed to respond to disasters. But now a change being considered at the Statehouse may put the control of the agency under the Sheriff. Some county’s have already made the change and It’s not sitting well with some people.
Guernsey County Commissioners recently made the legislative switch to consolidate local governing entities. Placing the Guernsey County Sheriff’s Office in control of the Emergency Management Agency, essentially merging the two, with Sheriff Mike McCauley overseeing EMA activity.
Thomas Laughman, from the Guernsey County Commissioners Office said, "The main change would be just the administrative oversight of the EMA, as far as EMA goes, nothing is going to change there. That department will operate just as they do now. It will just be under the direction and guidance of the sheriff."
"EMA Director still stands and she is still in that position, so the oversight for us would be budgetary issues," said Sheriff Mike McCauley.
The Commissioners and Sheriff believe this decision will be a good thing, benefiting the people, and creating a revived team effort between organizations. However, there is some opposition from a local volunteer fire department chief.
Chief Donald Warnock from Antrim Community Volunteer Fire Department said, "The sheriff is the governing agency, we may have an awful lot of abilities toward law enforcement but we might not have the abilities and the equipment as emergency responders to assist in the other sides of the emergency that is needed."
Warnock says there will be biased decisions made by sheriffs office and certain emergency scenarios wouldn’t be a sheriffs priority.
"We had a system that works very well,” said Warnock. “All the agencies work together and they have made a change, at least in my opinion, that is not necessary. Not good for the community that we serve."
Warnock’s main question was, what would changes would occur with the switch, and he felt the commissioners never fully answered that question. To that end, not much change will actually occur.
"Nothing,” Sheriff McCauley said. “She (Jerry Beckner) is still EMA Director. She still has those responsibilities, both by paperwork, and what is required by the job itself. She does it well, she has done it for 15 years."
The Muskingum County Sheriff, Commissioners, and EMA, deferred making this switch, feeling it is unnecessary to change. However, Lawrence County made this change four years ago and Guernsey County will now be the second.
"I talked to the Sheriff Lawless down there and it was four years ago, there were some concerns up front with him, but he says since then they have gotten along fine,” Sheriff McCauley said. When asked if he thinks the same will happen in Guernsey County, Sheriff McCauley said “I don’t have any reason to believe why it wouldn’t. "
As for now, no reverse changes were made and the commissioners have asked Warnock to see how it works and he has obliged…For now.