GENE STRONG RETIRES FROM CLATSOP COUNTY EMERGENCY PROGRAM
When the next emergency strikes Clatsop County, local officials will be better prepared to respond, thanks in large part to the work of outgoing Emergency Services Coordinator Gene Strong.
Strong is retiring from the position early next year after managing the county’s emergency preparedness efforts for six and a half years. Strong’s last day with the county will be Jan. 31, and the county hopes to have a new emergency services manager hired by that time so the transition is as seamless as possible.
Strong already had one full career behind him when he joined the county in 2004, having retired just the year before after 20 years as Sheriff of Wahkiakum County, Wash. His long experience proved extremely useful for the Clatsop County position.
“When I started I had a vision of taking an agency from the ground up, and I had the opportunity to do that,” Strong said. “It’s been a fun challenge.
When he came on board Clatsop County’s emergency management program was largely inactive and had lost what little state funding it had been receiving. Strong worked to improve communications infrastructure, gain outside funding and in general get the office “back on track.”
Sheriff Tom Bergin said Strong made the Emergency Management office one of the most efficient in the state.
“With Gene’s knowledge and vast amount of contacts he has put us in a state of preparedness well above what most counties will ever hope to achieve. We all owe Gene a huge thank you for making our county a safe place,” he said.
One of Strong’s first priorities was upgrading the county’s aging and inadequate communications network, which often left Sheriff’s Office personnel and other emergency responders in the field unable to talk with dispatchers. The project involved acquiring new radios and repeaters and updated transmission facilities on Wickiup Mountain – a $2 million project almost entirely funded with outside grants.
Strong also spearheaded the planning and fundraising for the county’s new Emergency Operations Center at Camp Rilea. A new wing will be built at the facility’s Warrior Hall to house state-of-the-art communications equipment and provide a permanent, centralized headquarters for coordinating the local response to a variety of disasters. State and federal dollars will cover two-thirds of the $500,000 total cost.
Successfully pursuing these and other projects involved more than just good grant-writing ability, Strong said. They also required coordination with many other agencies, including local fire and police departments.
“In the beginning it could be a challenge to get people together,” he said.
The program has also expanded training opportunities for local officials, and involved volunteer groups like amateur radio operators and the new Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) in training and planning.
In 2010 the Emergency Management program was brought under the County Manager’s Office, and Human Resources Director Dean Perez was named Emergency Management Director. The program now has a staff of four full- or part-time personnel and an annual budget of $380,000, half of which is funded through an Emergency Management Program grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Perez praised Strong’s technical expertise.
“No one in Oregon is more knowledgeable about emergency radio communications systems,” he said, adding that Clatsop County’s upgraded infrastructure is considered a model for other counties.
During the December 2007 gale that struck the North Coast, much of the county’s communications was knocked out.
“We fell silent, but that will not happen again – that was (Strong’s) vision – we can’t go silent again,” Perez said.
#1 Gene Strong
#2 The new emergency communications apparatus at Wickiup Mountain. Upgrading the facility was one of Gene Strong’s top priorities as head of Clatsop County’s emergency management program.
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