Reimbursement for MCSO Activities
Topic: In a recent Civil Service Meeting, two engaged citizens, Mr. Steve VanDenover and Mr. Jack Miles, suggested that the MCSO might be able to recover funds through the Department of Emergency Management for the response to the recent report of an Active Shooter at Hawkins Middle School. Sgt. Trevor Severance, an MCSO expert in this subject, explains why the MCSO does not qualify for reimbursment of funds for the school response, but he explains circumstances where the MCSO would qualify (and has sought) reimbursement when it is warranted.
Hawkins Middle School Response: Emergency Support Function and Financial Responsibility
Trevor Severance, Sergeant, B.S. CJ-HS
Mason County Sheriff’s Office
Recent questions have been raised in a public forum on the Mason County Sheriff’s Office response to the alleged active shooter incident at Hawkins Middle School in April 2017. With the assistance of surrounding agencies through existing Mutual Aid agreements, the Sheriff’s Office was successful in responding to and resolving what ultimately was a false alarm. The questions of why the Mason County Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan was not implemented and why the Sheriff did not seek reimbursement from the State for these activities were raised and bear addressing for the education of all of our community members.
The primary objective for Emergency Management in Mason County is to provide a coordinated effort from all supporting county/city and nongovernmental jurisdictions in the preparation for, response to, and relief from injury, damage and suffering resulting from either a localized or county-wide disaster. (Mason County, 2012) The Mason County Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan (CEMP), adopted November 13, 2012, is the framework for emergency and disaster response and management in our jurisdiction. It provides general guidance for emergency management activities and an overview of our methods of mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Developed to compliment the National Response Framework, this plan applies to all natural and man-made disasters. A Disaster is defined as an expected or unexpected event or set of circumstances which:
(a) demands immediate action to preserve public health, protect life, protect public property, or to provide relief to any stricken community overtaken by such occurrences, or
(b) reaches such a dimension or degree of destructiveness as to warrant the governor declaring a state of emergency pursuant or RCW 43.06.010. This may include any emergency, event or situation in any part of the county which may threaten or cause damage of sufficient severity or magnitude to warrant execution of this Plan, and/or
(c) in which a community's available, pertinent resources are expended, or the need for resources exceeds availability, and in which a community undergoes severe danger, incurring losses so that the social or economic structure of the community is disrupted and the fulfillment of some or all of the community's essential functions are prevented.
The CEMP defines an emergency as “Any hurricane, tornado, storm, flood, high water, wind-driven water, tidal wave, tsunami, earthquake, volcanic eruption, landslide, mudslide, snowstorm, drought, fire, explosion, or other catastrophe which requires emergency assistance to save lives and protect public health and safety or to avert or lessen the threat of a major disaster. (Public Law 92-288.)” (Mason County, 2012)
CEMP provides a basis for incorporating all individuals and organizations with disaster responsibilities for Mason County into the Emergency Action Plan (EAP), a reference framework for Continuity of Government (COG) and Continuity of Operations (COOP), and comprehensive framework for hazard mitigation programs, training and exercises, and response and recovery operations. Section B of the CEMP addresses Overall Coordination of Incident Management Activities. In accordance with this section, the first local emergency responder to arrive at the scene of an emergency situation will implement the Incident Command System and serve as the Incident Commander (IC) until relieved by a more senior or more qualified individual. The IC will establish an Incident Command Post (ICP) and provide an assessment of the situation to local officials, identify response resources required, and direct the on-scene response from the ICP. For major emergencies and disasters, the EOC will be activated (Mason County, 2012).
Emergency Support Functions under the CEMP provide a detailed framework for the responsibilities during an emergency/disaster. Under ESF #13 – Public Safety, law Enforcement and Security; the Mason County Sheriff’s Office is the primary responsible agency. ESF #13 provides guidelines in the event of an emergency or disaster as defined previously.
An incident such as the reported active shooter at Hawkins Middle School in April 2017 does not rise to the scope and scale of an emergency or disaster as defined in the CEMP. Although potentially a tragic incident, the incident was a short term, localized event with no impact to community infrastructure or services. Additionally, the resources used were under the scope of existing mutual aid agreements.
Absent a disaster declaration, the financial burden for incidents and emergencies in Washington State fall upon the local jurisdiction. This is true for all Sheriff’s Office related functions with two exceptions. The first exception is found under Title III Section 302 of the Secure Rural Schools Act which provides reimbursement to a participating county for search and rescue and other emergency services paid for by the county and performed on national forests. This reimbursement is for activities performed exclusively on National Forest lands (United States Forest Service, 2017).
In April 2017 the Mason County Sheriff’s Office responded to a search in the Olympic National Forest for a missing hiker. The Sheriff’s Office incurred roughly $10,000 in operational expenses related to this mission. Due to the mission occurring on Federal Forest lands, the Sheriff’s Office appropriately submitted for reimbursement under Title III of the Secure Rural Schools Act. Conversely, if the mission had occurred anywhere other than the Olympic National Forest, there would be no financial recourse to recoup the expenditure, placing the financial burden upon the Sheriff’s Office.
Washington State progressively provides resources for volunteer emergency workers which is the second exception mentioned above. The Emergency Worker Program is a volunteer oriented program established by RCW 38.52.310. Emergency workers are provided liability, medical, and personal property coverage as well as reimbursement for some incidental expenses while deployed on state-approved incidents and training events (Washington Emergency Management Division, 2017). For an event to qualify under the Emergency Worker Program, it must be assigned an incident number by the State Division of Emergency Management. Under this program, there is no provision to provide funds to agencies for emergency response.
Under the provisions of RCW 43.43.972 – Law Enforcement Mobilization; Local law enforcement may request mobilization only in response to an emergency or disaster exceeding the capabilities of available local resources and those available through existing mutual aid agreements (Washington State Legislature, 2017). In such an event, the host agency and other agencies providing resources shall be eligible for expense reimbursement. The Hawkins Middle School incident did not meet the definition of an emergency or disaster and did not exceed the capabilities of available local resources and those available through existing mutual aid agreements.
The Mason County Sheriff’s Office works hard to provide the best possible services to our community. In doing so, the agency works hard to ensure that the community’s money is allocated in a manner consistent with those efforts. Opportunities for outside funding and/or reimbursement are explored and taken advantage of if possible. The active shooter response at Hawkins Middle School in April 2017 is one of those incidents that occurs within the County for which opportunities for external funding does not exist.