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Ohio Train Derailment — Politics in Play

Politics are giving the incident legs.

Earlier I mentioned here how the train derailment in Ohio that happened on Feb. 3 is still in the news. Today, 20 days later, it is still in the news, and will be for at least a bit longer, until other news pushes it off the news cycle.

What emergency managers might fear the most is when an emergency or disaster response becomes political. We are then caught in the middle, just trying to do our job to first protect the community and then help it recover. When political parties want to use the incident to cause division, they will inevitably try to “loop you into their talking points.”

There is great danger in that, because you can become aligned with one perspective — even if you are only providing the facts as you know them. If the city or county elected officials are the ones looking to manipulate you and your agency to their thinking, it can be doubly dangerous; personally, for your job if you are a “serve at the pleasure of” position or to your own personal reputation and credibility in the community.

There are big city politics and small town politics. Both are equally fraught with peril.
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.