City beefs up civil defense
A new department will coordinate training for emergencies
Mayor Mufi Hannemann has created the city Department of Emergency Management, a restructuring and expansion of the Oahu Civil Defense Agency.
"This change recognizes the expanded role the Oahu Civil Defense Agency has played in the administration and oversight of federal homeland security programs for the city and protecting the populace," Hannemann said yesterday. The move elevates the agency to a Cabinet-level department in the city government.
The City Council approved the change Wednesday but not before questioning why the change was being done. Councilmembers complained that the Hannemann administration did not satisfactorily answer their questions when the issue was in committee earlier this month, threatening to pull the plug on the change.
But during Wednesday's meeting, councilmembers said they had met with administration officials in the interim.
"During our committee hearing, we did receive very confusing testimony, and I think that's all been cleared up," said Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, chairwoman of the Executive Matters Committee, during the meeting.
At least one member still was not swayed. "My opposition to this (change) rests entirely upon that I don't think we should be expanding our city government," Councilman Charles Djou said.
Along with the new department, the Hannemann administration plans to ask the City Council for about $140,000 more in the agency's budget and four more positions with at least one of them paid with federal funds.
The new director will continue to be a civil servant and be hired under civil-service guidelines.
Peter Hirai, acting administrator of the Oahu Civil Defense Agency, will continue to lead the new department on an acting basis, Hannemann said.
"We are modernizing and emerging into the 21st century with additional duties and responsibilities that have been placed on us since 9/11," Hirai said. "This elevation from an agency to a department will enhance our role in the protection of the residents and visitors on Oahu."
The primary role will be to coordinate emergency operations, training, information sharing, and applying for and administering federal homeland security grants. In an emergency the department would activate the city's emergency operating center.
Star-Bulletin reporter Crystal Kua and the Associated Press contributed to this report.