GR’s new emergency manager has experienced the unexpected

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Events, like the storm that ripped through the Belknap neighborhood in Grand Rapids two weeks ago, show the importance of a coordinated response to emergencies.  

But sometimes, it’s the disaster they don’t see coming that keep those in the emergency management business up at night.

Grand Rapids’ new emergency management director knows that all too well.

Two years ago, a gathering of white nationalist in Charlottesville, Virginia turned violent, as a participant plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters with his car, killing a woman. That’s when then Albemarle County Emergency Management coordinator Allison Farole learned that sometimes, the playbook needs a rewrite.

“Unfortunately, it took a major event like that it really understands how we can improve as a community and public safety in general,” Farole said.

Recently named emergency manager for Grand Rapids, Farole was just six weeks on the job in Virginia in August 2017.

Charlottesville’s tragedy presented a steep learning curve for emergency responders, but it resulted in better planning and a better mindset.

“It really emphasized the importance of training and exercising. We really spent a lot of time in 2018 to really bring what was necessary to the table, to ensure that we were never put in that position again,” Farole said.

Farole will put that experience to work in Grand Rapids.

It’s not a brand-new position for the city.

For years, Grand Rapids had its own emergency management director.

Budget cuts shifted the responsibility to Kent County’s emergency management director.

Farole’s new boss, Grand Rapids Fire Chief John Lehman, says the need for emergency management services in the state’s second-largest city is growing.

“We need our own dedicated person that’s solely watching out for us,” Lehman said. “We had a good relationship with the county. We continue to have a good relationship with the county. And we’ll build that even stronger now to be able to build some redundancy in these positions.” 

Farole will update the playbook for the disasters we expect and the ones we don’t, like Charlottesville.

“I think, what we are seeing around the country is just more of an engaged community,” Farole said. “So, there is always a potential for that, regardless of where we are.”

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