Blair planning for chaos

You work for a local municipality, and one day you come to work and none of your bosses are there. You ask around, and there are vague reports of a local disaster. So who’s in charge?

The Blair County Hazard Mitigation Planning Committee is working on a proposal that would encourage municipal governments to compile succession lists and contingency plans to help make the lines of authority clear when unforeseen occurrences blur those lines.

The proposal could become part of the committee’s 2018 five-year update of the county hazard mitigation plan, which must be approved by the end of September.

Such lists and contingency plans would be like those that apply at the highest level of the U.S. government — if the president goes down or is unable to function, the vice president steps in, and if he’s gone or unable to serve, the Speaker of the House steps in, etc.

There are a variety of local situations where a succession list could help, according to Dave McFarland, county planning director and committee chairman.

They include lurid events, like the terrorist bombing of a municipal meeting, he said.

They also include slightly more mundane situations, like elected officials of a municipality stranded in Harrisburg at a conference when the Susquehanna has risen and all travel and communication to the west is impossible, McFarland said at a meeting this week.

He recalled an actual and even more mundane situation, when he was the city planning director and then-City Manager Joe Weakland got sick.

The protocol at the time called for him as planning director to become acting city manager, but he was thoroughly unqualified, he said.

A protocol should have been in place to have a better-qualified official step up, he said.

In chaotic situations, there are people whose personalities incline them to take charge, McFarland said.

Sometimes those may not be the ones best equipped, he said.

There are others who in times of chaos are inclined to back away from the responsibility, he said.

They may be the very people who could handle things best, he said.

In many municipalities, officials may assume that a succession and contingency plan is already in place or that things would fall together properly without any prior planning, he said.

They may be wrong, he said.

The original proposal called not only for each municipality to develop a succession list and contingency plan, but for them to conduct drills to ensure things would work as hoped.

A plan would be helpful, said Cassandra Schmick, planning director for Logan Township. “I don’t think we need to drill (though),” she said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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