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Oregon’s Office of Emergency Management is now a standalone agency

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The Oregon Department of Emergency Management will take the lead on the state's response to disasters.

Effective this month, Oregon’s Office of Emergency Management is now a standalone state agency.

The office has been around since the early 1980s but was housed under other agencies including the State Police and the Military Department. Lawmakers approved the change with broad bipartisan support during the 2021 legislative session, in part to elevate emergency management from being a subset of another government function.

OEM Director Andrew Phelps said the change is also meant to allow the new agency to work proactively to reduce the impact of future disasters.

“By pulling us out from underneath a response-oriented organization, it allows us to be a little bit more intentional with how we focus on risk-reduction and hazard mitigation, and preparing our communities for whatever bad day lies ahead,” he said.

Phelps said with the new department, Oregon joins a handful of other states that have designated a standalone state agency to oversee emergency management functions.

"And with that elevation, as important as anything else, came additional resources for us," said Phelps. "It becomes a real gamechanger in how we can serve our communities and the Oregonians that expect to be taken care of during emergencies and disasters."

Phelps said the extra funding allowed the agency to more than double its staffing. That said, with just under 100 employees, the new Department of Emergency Management is a fraction of the size of some state agencies. For instance, nearly 5,000 people work at the Oregon Department of Transportation.

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December, 2018. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”