State Rep. Jack O’Malley, of Lake Ann, today outlined Michigan’s outdated and inefficient emergency management structure during a Joint Select Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic hearing.
The select committee welcomed Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division Commander Kevin Sweeney to discuss the state’s emergency preparedness for COVID-19, as well as personal protective equipment supply and procurement and the functionality of the state’s Emergency Operations Center.
“Our men and women in law enforcement do a great job and put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe, but emergency management is not and should not be in their wheelhouse,” said O’Malley, noting that only two states in the country run their emergency management through the State Police Department. “We need a department solely dedicated to this type of response so that our response can be efficient and effective.”
O’Malley was especially critical of the ambiguity of how the emergency notification system is used to relay information and personnel changes within the unit – given that it’s been charged with emergency response to what has been the most challenging public health crisis the country has faced in a century. Sweeney was elevated to the position in late April during a period in which COVID-19 cases were trending significantly upward.
“That decision baffles me,” O’Malley said of the change. “This wasn’t an instance of changing horses in midstream. This was an instance of changing horses as we approached Niagara Falls.”
The select committee has spoken with personal protective equipment manufacturers who have unsuccessfully tried to get crucial equipment into the state’s hands for frontline workers at fair cost, as well as desperate out-of-work people who spent months trying to work with the state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency to get their claims fulfilled. O’Malley pointed to the previous hearings as examples of the administration’s inability to manage emergency situations alone. Local emergency managers have also struggled to get wind of executive orders before they are announced, meaning they aren’t able to notify their areas of new rules or protocols.
“The communication between the administration and our locals must be better,” O’Malley said. “When that line of communication is frayed, it leads to the confusion you are seeing with the governor’s executive orders. You’d see a more seamless process with better communication.”