Flooding 5.JPG

Village workers clear drains during flooding in Moravia June 20.

The turmoil that has enveloped the Cayuga County Emergency Services Office this year may be nearly over.

Emergency management has been without a full-time leader since January, when multiple resignations and their aftermath revealed considerable dysfunction within that operation of Cayuga County government. Cayuga County Planning and Economic Development Director Stephen Lynch has been working as an interim manager to keep communication lines open with local and state emergency officials, but a process to hire a new director was derailed this spring with the sudden forced departure of Cayuga County Administrator J. Justin Woods.

But a plan introduced to the county Legislature Judicial and Public Safety Committee earlier this month would merge emergency management with parts of the county's E-911 Emergency Communications Department. The E-911 administrator and emergency management director positions would be consolidated, overseeing both departments that would have deputy directors in place. A new executive administrative assistant position would work for both departments, with a focus on grant management.

Legislators were receptive to the idea, and while not formally voting to implement it, they directed county department heads to start working on the logistics of implementation and conducting a trial run of sorts.

We agree that this approach is worth exploring, but as the details are figured out, we urge county officials to be pro-active in quickly establishing some public communications protocols. With so many moving parts and open positions in county government, it's not clear who should be communicating with the public when emergency situations arise and in what manners they should be doing this.

Two situations last week exposed this public communications ambiguity.

When the Owasco Inlet rapidly rose during a major rain event and went into major flood stage in the Moravia area, we didn't see any public notification from county government until a very generic press release was sent out late in the afternoon from the county administrator's office, with the E-911 director listed as the main contact.

A day later, a major natural gas leak in the village of Moravia prompted a Hyper-Reach call from E-911 to residents in the area telling them to evacuate. The agency also posted to its Facebook page, without providing details about the specific part of the village covered by the evacuation warning.

In both cases, the public could have reasonably expected quick, detailed messages to be displayed prominently on the county's website and on all of its public safety social media accounts, along with notifications to news media organizations. That would have quickly informed the most people, including those without phones or people who were planning to come to Moravia. As it stood, many residents likely didn't know what was happening or where to avoid. 

Both situations, fortunately, were resolved with minimal damage and disruption. We hope they can be used a tool for making some changes in how communication is handled.

No one knows when the next major public emergency will happen. But it should definitely be met with well-executed plan for informing the public about what's happening and what residents should do.

The Citizen editorial board includes interim publisher Thomas Salvo, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.

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