We typically support shared and cooperative efforts among local governments. From an important practical standpoint, shared programs often are less expensive for taxpayers. From a philosophical standpoint, they also help bind localities together as a community — also important, but less tangible.
However, Albemarle County has made a cogent argument for breaking out of the Charlottesville-UVa-Albemarle Office of Emergency Management division of the regional Emergency Communications Center in order to hire an emergency coordinator dedicated to county needs.
County, city and the University of Virginia have different needs in different environments. This is a realm in which one size does not fit all.
Albemarle must be more focused on the types of emergencies facing rural areas, such as natural disasters. Charlottesville’s and UVa’s emergencies are more urban in nature and often arise from events.
For a clearer picture, think of the heavy floods of 2018 — so severe that two Albemarle residents drowned — versus the violent rallies at UVa’s Lawn and Charlottesville’s downtown in 2017.
Albemarle County Fire Rescue Chief Dan Eggleston recently laid out the rationale for a county-only coordinator before the Board of Supervisors.
“Regardless of my view on climate change, we are seeing trends, and we’re not immune to that here, of larger and more devastating natural events,” he said. “I think we need to be prepared to continue this trend in the future, and think about how we best protect our residents.”
Board members shared his concern with reaching, and protecting, rural residents — especially those who might be particularly isolated.
“This is an office of one,” Mr. Eggleston said, “so the majority of [the coordinator’s] time is going to be establishing relationships and partnerships and agreements with other agencies, both private and public, to help us out in time of need.” Another form of cooperation.
A similar report already had been presented to the board of the Emergency Communications Center.
“We have very different needs, and the current model is not meeting the expectations in our rural areas for mitigation and planning for natural disasters and events,” Mr. Eggleston told the ECC board.
Charlottesville Fire Chief and board member Andrew Baxter agreed, even suggesting that the city also might want to consider making changes to allow a more concentrated focus on city-specific emergencies. He stopped short of suggesting what those changes should be.
“No one is interested in abandoning the regional cooperation,” he said, even as city, county and university acknowledge that their needs are different. “We’ve seen in the past few years the advantages of working together and the consequences of operating in a silo and not sharing information.”
The ECC voted to eliminate its emergency management coordinator position, which already was vacant, to better enable the county to hire its own. An assistant coordinator will remain as part of the ECC to liaison among the three jurisdictions and facilitate cooperative efforts where those are useful.
Supervisor Rick Randolph summed things up at the county board meeting. The purpose of the revision is to better protect “the health, safety and welfare of our citizens…,” he said. “That, after all, is our rationale for being a local government.”