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October 31, 2014
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Who is in charge in an emergency?

By David Hulse
July 31, 2013

After a lively discussion, the Lumberland Town Board on July 24 decided to table its anticipated approval of the town’s emergency plan.

The delay involved councilman David Leamon’s questions involving the plan’s emergency chain of command and the rules for declaration of a town-wide emergency, should the supervisor be unavailable.

“The line of succession has non-elected officials serving as supervisor. I disagree,” said Leamon.

Lumberland Fire Department President Ann Schulte Steimle, who had given an overview of the draft amendments to the plan, which mainly comes into play during bad weather including flooding and snow storms with power outages, asked Leamon to explain why.

“There’s a lot of power and responsibility in that role. It should be an elected official. Emergency management should be you guys. Your time is not well spent doing administrative work,” Leamon replied. “I don’t think that the emergency manager or the chief constable should be making those decisions,” he added.

Steimle said emergency management was a consulting position and the question was “not who takes over, but who has the understanding of what has to be done, people making decisions that the town needs to make.”

Supervisor Nadia Rajsz suggested a chain from supervisor, to deputy supervisor, to members of the town board.

Leamon, who is also an attorney, questioned the authorization and length of emergency declarations.

Rajsz said that emergency declarations are coordinated with the county’s emergency coordinator, who requires an end date for them.

Leamon said that his reading of the law found that any emergency declaration suspending local law and expected to last beyond five days should be ratified by the board. He also questioned the supervisor’s authority to institute curfews. “As it’s written, the town board has zero relevance in the plan,” he said.

Rajsz said curfews are issued only for public safety and local law would not be suspended “unless in drastic situations.”

Rajsz suggested the tabling, noting that several other minor attachments to the plan still need completion. “Let’s ponder it for another two weeks.”

In other business, the board, agreeing that the recent heat wave had made the highway department shop unsafe for town workers and equipment, approved a $2,800 estimate for installation of an air conditioning unit by Heckman Refrigeration of Port Jervis to serve the office and conference room. A separate unit for the break room was not approved, and the board decided workers could take their meals in the conference room.