Urban Area Perspective - Dallas

By Joe Straw
Kenny Shaw is Director of the Office of Emergency Management for the City of Dallas. He came to Dallas in September 2004 from the same position in Little Rock, Arkansas. Shaw began his career in 1980 as the emergency management director and county fire coordinator in Benton County, Arkansas. He has held leadership positions with the Eureka Springs (Arkansas) Fire Department, the Arkansas Division of EMS, and the Little Rock Fire Department and Metropolitan EMS services. He is a nationally registered paramedic and a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program. He served two terms as president of the Arkansas Emergency Management Association. Shaw also serves on the Dallas Regional Type III Incident Management Team. He is a member of the Exercises Subcommittee of the International Association of Fire Chief’s Emergency Management Committee and was recently appointed to the FEMA Region VI Emergency Communications Coordination Working Group. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Arkansas and a master’s in Public Administration from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

What are the responsibilities of your office?

I’m the emergency management director for the Dallas. I report to the first assistant city manager who oversees the public safety departments: police, fire and emergency management. I’m considered a department head just like the police chief and the fire chief. We’re charged with building the emergency management plans for the city for a large-scale event or incidents like major flooding or tornadoes or major hazardous materials incidents or even terrorism incidents. So we have a rather sophisticated master emergency operations plan. We do a pretty sophisticated hazard analysis in which we determine which risks we are most exposed to and therefore should plan to respond to. In our case that’s severe weather more than anything else. We are in Tornado Alley and we have a lot of interesting weather in Dallas and we plan accordingly. We manage the emergency operations center (EOC) for the city when we do have the incidents or events like the Super Bowl, where we had a weeklong activation of the EOC so we could monitor all of the events. We do a lot of training and exercises including both with city employees whether they’re public safety or not, we do tabletop exercises once a month.

What assets and threats make your region unique?

We’re a big city. We’re the eighth-largest city in the country, and with Fort Worth and Arlington and other cities we’re the fourth-largest urban area in the country after New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. So we have a lot of exposure. We have a major downtown buildings and facilities and that sort of thing. The biggest thing that we’re concerned about is lone-wolf terrorism like the Oklahoma City event, we’re concerned about special events and individuals who might be ticked off at the government, and like I said we’re concerned about severe weather. We have everything from tornadoes to pretty severe flooding to the last two years we’ve had the worst snow storms and ice storms in probably 30 years. We try to look at primary sectors like banking and chemicals and hazardous materials and make sure our drinking water stays safe.

What is the region’s method for planning and for administration of federal homeland security grants?

We have a really good regional governance structure in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. In our federal Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant program region each of the constituent jurisdictions has a person designated to be the lead UASI person and they vote on which priorities will be funded. They do a pretty good job of spreading the money around in the urban area. It concentrates in Dallas and Fort Worth, but we’ll share with some of the smaller cities around if the thing is critical enough.
The other thing that we have in Texas is regional councils of government. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area is our organization is the North Central Texas Council of Governments, and our area includes the 16 counties that surround Dallas County and Tarrant County, which is the Fort Worth area. We meet regularly, and most grants go through the Council of Governments. We do a lot of training through that program and a lot of the transportation issues are decided through that system. It’s a pretty sophisticated regional planning group, and it brings us all together a lot more often than we would be otherwise. They’ll call a meeting, and their offices are in Arlington, which is centrally located, and so we get to see our counterparts a lot around the area and whether its police fire or other public service folks. It works pretty well.
Finally, right after Hurricane Katrina we realized we had to work together a lot more down the road on hurricanes and other issues, so we created the Regional Emergency Managers group through the Council that meets monthly, as we set up a listserv where we now have probably about 500 people on that listserv ranging from all of the emergency managers and their staffs to the nonprofit organizations and the occasional police and fire chief.

What is the greatest challenge in your office’s mission?

Unfortunately right now it’s budget issues. In the last couple years we’ve actually lost a couple of our staff and we’re maybe one of the smallest emergency management offices of the big cities around the country. We had nine, but we had a couple people retire and they asked us to not replace them at this time. Hopefully we’ll be able to down the road so we’re down to seven people right now. However, our UASI grant program is managed by another department. The City of Dallas has a department that manages all grants. Fortunately for us the guy who does the UASI stuff is very oriented to emergency management and public safety and he does a really good job. So technically we probably have a couple more from the grants division who work a whole lot with us.
But we have to take the brunt of the cuts just like everybody else, and police and fire are taking cuts this year, so that’s the main problem is budget issue. Other than that we’re trying to stay up with training and education and that sort of thing. But budgeting issues kind of limit that because you can’t go off somewhere where you might have been able to travel in the past. So we’ve taken advantage of the systems like the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, Maryland or its Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Alabama, where they pay for the travel and put you up. So we try to take advantage of that. And we also try to do a lot of training here in the City of Dallas if we can.

What would you say is the region’s greatest success?

Like I just talked about, I think it’s the regional collaboration. It is impressive in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. We all talk all the time. That’s the big thing. And the UASI program is a regional program also, so I’d say regional collaboration is the biggest area where our region has created success.



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