Crisis Chronicles: Job of a City's Emergency Manager

By Tim Curry on August 18, 2023 from Crisis Chronicles via

The job of an emergency manager is relatively new. The Stafford act, signed into law by President Carter in 1988, created the Federal Emergency Management Agency, thus creating the role of the emergency manager. Through the 1990s FEMA grew and roles expanded into state and local emergency management agencies as the demand grew for the government to step in in times of crisis. After 9/11 FEMA was restructured inside the Department of Homeland Security and the role of the local emergency manager continued to evolve. Lessons learned from disasters like Hurricane Andrew and Hurricane Katrina put further emphasis on having people and resources in place at the local level to plan for and respond to disasters. But how did our small city of Bridgeport end up with its own emergency management department? This is unusual for West Virginia, only 3 other cities in the state have a dedicated emergency manager with one of those serving the dual role of fire chief. The answer lies in the potential of our little city.
If you take in the view from anywhere in Bridgeport, you might notice a few things. This time of year, our Main Street is decorated with large, blooming pots of flowers that create a beautiful view, when November rolls around the view will be equally as stunning with Christmas Decorations. But did you know, what we call Main Street is part of a major US highway that runs coast to coast? According to the WV Department of Highways, over 16,000 vehicles a day travel Route 50 with around 7% being commercial vehicles. A few times a day you might hear a train rumble through downtown. Our section of railroad tracks moves cargo from ports on the east coast into Ohio for transportation further west. In 2022 CSX estimated over 200,000 tons of cargo came through our rail line.
Weather permitting, you can look up and see the bright blue and orange of an Allegiant Airlines Airbus A320 carrying passengers from our little airport to destinations in Florida and beyond. Our mall is always bustling with shoppers and our 5 plus miles of interstate is always full of traffic. This is all to say that our little city has a lot of big potential for things to go awry. Our economic development is boasting a near 100-million-dollar mark of new construction for 2023 with no sign of it slowing any time soon. It was these things and more that led our elected leaders to create an emergency management department in the late 90’s to help plan and coordinate the city’s response to emergencies. Former Bridgeport Fire Chief, Ollie Blackwell was appointed the first Director of Emergency Management in 1999, officially making it a department within the city’s government.
Emergency management today looks a little different from the way it did when the program started in the 90’s but the core mission remains the same, protecting our people and planning for emergencies. In the scheme of the entire city, the emergency management department takes up less than 1 percent of the total general fund budget, but that 1 percent goes to things like disaster supplies, generators, disaster plan reviews, and designing yearly exercises to test our capabilities. In the coming months I hope you continue to read my blog about emergency management. I plan to cover topics like weather, disaster preparedness, safety and much more.
Editor's Note: According to the author, Timothy Curry, this initial blog post would not have been possible without Bridgeport Fire Department volunteer, Edward Sparks. Ed has been a volunteer with Bridgeport for many years and his knowledge of the origins of Emergency Management within the city contributed greatly to this post. As for the author, Curry is a Fairmont native. He began his career working as a paramedic in Marion County. In 2021 he started his role as the director of Emergency Management for the City of Bridgeport. 

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