Since Donald Druitt began his new role as director of the Macon-Bibb County Emergency Management Agency in March, he has quietly made minor changes that he says could pay off in big dividends for the community.
For example, he switched the training room with the operations room at the EMA bunker that sits adjacent to City Hall. On the surface, that might not seem that significant.
But the new layout allows Druitt’s four-pronged incident command system plan to run more smoothly in the event of a disaster.
“We needed to accommodate 15 people around a table,” Druitt said. “This was an ideal time. The (adjacent) policy room was being used for storage, and that’s where we’re going to be putting the city and county leaders. We’ve split up the operations and refined it quite a bit.”
Druitt, 57, has put together a roster of 66 people from the city and county who have assigned duties during a disaster. He’s divided most of the group among four areas of response — planning, operations, finance/administration and logistics. People from those four areas report to the policy team that includes the offices of the mayor, the Bibb County Commission chairman, the sheriff, police chief, fire chief, the Macon and county chief administrative officers and Druitt.
Druitt has spent the past couple of weeks supervising emergency management training among city and county officials, and he briefed City Council members and county commissioners of the changes.
“(That) was my first chance to see some of the changes,” Bibb County Sheriff Jerry Modena said. “I’m impressed with the setup.”
Druitt is now in the process of adding 36 more phones, 20 more computers, big-screen TVs and video conferencing capabilities to expand what the people in the bunker can do during a crisis.
All of these changes will be tested in late October, when Druitt plans to stage an exercise in which city and county leaders will have to work through a disaster scenario he’s devising — one that combines the Flood of ’94, the 2008 Mother’s Day tornado and the forced evacuation of 60,000 people from the Savannah area into Macon.
“I’m currently working on that plan,” Druitt said of a mock hurricane that would hit Savannah, causing tornadoes and flooding in the midstate. “It’s a storm that’s a possibility.”
Local officials will be working with state disaster officials as well as those from Savannah and other Middle Georgia counties during the exercise.
“It’s going to be pretty dynamic,” Druitt said.
Druitt will be bringing plenty of experience into the scenario as well as his day-to-day duties as EMA director. Druitt retired from the U.S. Army in 1996 and worked as a planner in Newport News, Va., before becoming the deputy EMA director there.
He also worked as an EMA director in the Florida cities of Fort Lauderdale and Miami as well as in the Cayman Islands before accepting the Macon job.
Druitt said he wasn’t scared off by the complicated hiring process after former EMA director Johnny Wingers retired last year.
In November, the City Council rejected Macon Mayor Robert Reichert’s choice of Michael Smith to be the new EMA director, with some council members favoring LaTravius Smith, a longtime EMA employee who was then acting director.
When the job opened up a second time, Druitt said he decided to apply for it, not worried about the politics involved.
“It was a blessing,” Druitt said. “I was looking at the stuff in the press and saw the basic controversy to put someone in position to manage the program. But for me, it was a no-brainer. I’ve built four or five programs now, and (Macon) has a great facility that just needed some upgrades.”
Reichert said he’s excited by some of the changes he’s seen in emergency management.
“He’s been excellent,” the mayor said. “He has been a breath of fresh air. He’s accomplished numerous physical changes as well as organizational changes and updates, as well as increasing and training a number of volunteers.”
Druitt also has reorganized some of the EMA’s procedures to make them more compliant with current state and federal guidelines. By doing so, Macon remains eligible for federal grants that could lead to more improvements.
Druitt also made the county’s E-911 center the primary warning point to sound storm sirens countywide in case of a tornado warning. Previously, it was EMA that sounded the sirens, but Druitt made the switch in April because the E-911 center is staffed 24 hours a day.
In the coming months, Druitt said, he hopes to put together a local organizing planning committee among the city, county and private industry located here. Such committees are located across the country as a way for communities to work with companies that use hazardous materials at their plants. Currently, the state oversees that operation, but by keeping it at the local level, Druitt can organize meetings among emergency officials and local businesses to come up with ideas in case one of those companies has an issue with the hazardous material.
Druitt said that during his previous experience, such committees made a huge difference in public safety. During one occasion, airport officials learned of a non-toxic substance to de-ice planes. During another, officials at a factory learned about a potentially fatal flaw in the factory’s emergency procedure in case of an ammonia leak. Because the factory didn’t have proper ventilation, the procedure would have actually caused the death of all its workers had there been an ammonia spill.
Druitt said such a committee can review procedures and come up with exercises for local companies.
“It’s part of the community’s right to know,” he said.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.