May 12, 2009 — A major reorganizing of emergency management is in the works, consolidating the V.I. Office of Homeland Security, the soon-to-be-operational 911 call centers and the Office of Management and Budget's Public Assistance Grant Program under the coordination of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency.
The Adjutant General of the V.I. National Guard, whose office has till now overseen VITEMA and advised the governor for Homeland Security, would instead focus on the National Guard's preparedness for overseas deployment and territorial emergency response.
Tuesday, VITEMA, National Guard, V.I. Police Department and Office of Management and Budget officials outlined to the Senate Financial Services, Infrastructure and Consumer Affairs Committee how their operations would be affected by the reorganization. And each in turn lent their support to the reorganization bill, sponsored by Sen. Celestino White at the behest of Gov. John deJongh Jr.'s administration. The bill was sent out of committee without dissent.
Over the last two decades, and especially since Sept. 11, 2001, the role of the National Guard across the country has shifted from a reserve force to one that is deployed more frequently and for longer spans, Adjutant General Renaldo Rivera said. Separating emergency management from the guard makes operational sense, he said.
"There are only 12 states where the adjutant general is involved in emergency management," Rivera said. "The trend in the other 42 states and territories has been to identify and dedicate one agency to address emergency management as the National Guard transitions from being a strategic to an operational force."
The other changes in structure cut redundancies and reshape emergency management into the new national mold.
The present structure of VITEMA and Homeland Security as two agencies under the adjutant general creates overlap, said Homeland Security Director Mel Vanterpool.
"Both agencies have planners and training coordinators which at times conduct conflicting planning and training activities," he said. "The merger . would solidify any overlapping positions."
Personnel are moving from department to department with the reorganization, raising a concern with some senators about what will happen to the employees whose jobs have changed and how the new positions will be filled.
"What are the salaries for these new positions?" Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O'Reilly said.
"No one is getting a reduction in pay," Walters said. "But the positions have not been defined yet."
Many of the new jobs will have new descriptions and requirements, especially with the incipient 911 call system, but the goal is for everyone currently employed to move to equivalent or better positions either in the reorganized department or elsewhere in government. The Police Department is training their present dispatchers for the new 911 system now, acting Police Commissioner Novelle Francis said. (Commissioner James McCall is out of the territory.)
"All current dispatchers that meet the certification requirements, and want to, will be given positions, at a considerable raise in pay, as e-911 operators," Francis said. "Those current dispatchers that do not meet the certification requirements, or chose not to become e-911 operators are to be re-assigned to positions within the government that match their qualifications and protect their years of service.
With a large Spanish-speaking population, especially on St. Croix, Sen. Sammuel Sanes wanted to know if there will be "bilingual personnel on every shift," in the new 911 emergency call center.
"That is our goal, sir, Walters said.
The bill was voted out of committee and will be heard next by the Rules and Judiciary Committee. Voting yea were: Sanes, White, Sens. Wayne James and Michael Thurland. Absent were Sens. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Terrence "Positive" Nelson and O'Reilly, who had stepped out shortly before the motion for a vote, returning after.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.