West Virginia's Move of Emergency Management to National Guard Is Questioned

Was that the right thing to do?

by Eric Holdeman / July 2, 2019

Was that the right thing to do, moving the West Virginia Emergency Management function from under the governor to be under the the National Guard? The move is being questioned. Was it the right decision? Can the governor do that unilaterally without a final approval by the Legislature and having it reflected in the state's code?

See this story, which is not the clearest piece of reporting I've ever read, Questions remain about letter that shifted Emergency Management to Adjutant General.

I'm calling on my memory banks for some information about "the issue" that caused the move to happen. What I recall is that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had done an audit of the West Virginia management of disaster recovery funds and projects. They had been warned previously to get their act together, and then failing to do so, FEMA stopped approving projects and funding. That caused the then-director to be shown the door by the governor who decided to give the function of state emergency management to the National Guard to oversee. If I was a betting man, I'd say the adjutant general made a play to have that transfer of the function happen. There are plenty of other examples of states having emergency management under the military department and/or the National Guard — as it is typically described.

The first rationale given, and repeated in the article, is that there is this disaster response role and the National Guard has unique capabilities to help in disasters, thus — emergency management is better under them. In this particular article, they claim the National Guard can hire much more quickly ... I'm thinking they still need to run through all the same state personnel hoops, unless they are shortchanging those for speed. The National Guard would likely have zero experience in disaster recovery administration — other than their own facilities that might have been damaged in a disaster. Hiring a new and more competent director of emergency management would likely have been the best and easiest course of action. Leadership, after all, makes all the difference. 

Why would the National Guard be interested in emergency management? Two words, "domestic operations." This is what they (as a whole) are hanging their hats on to maintain force structure and funding from the federal government/DOD. Now that the two wars are over — as far as significant National Guard participation is concerned, they need "a mission" that drives them to have a significant role, i.e., domestic operations. 

For emergency managers, we know that it is not all about disaster response. There are the other four or three phases where you spend all your time. If you are interested in building disaster resilience, I think the emphasis should be on mitigation, not an area where the National Guard has much experience or role. 

But hey, politics being politics, I expect they will sort it out. Likely it will be difficult to backtrack on the decision that the governor made, unless the Legislature has an adversarial relationship with him and they are looking to "stick it to him" and show what the other branch of government can do.

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