Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 26, 2013

New official brings experience

BY MICHAEL WALTON mwalton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse County’s newest emergency management supervisor never wants to mitigate a disaster in the Grand Traverse region.

But he’ll be ready if needed.

“You hope you don’t have to use your plans and practice, but you still have to be prepared,” Gregg Bird said.

The county hired Bird, 39, this month as the health department’s emergency management supervisor. County commissioners also appointed him as emergency management coordinator. The two positions often go hand-in-hand, County Human Resources Director Jen Semen said.

Bird most recently worked as a part-time Grand Traverse Metro firefighter, but he has an extensive background in emergency management and disaster response rooted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Bird, a Pennsylvania native, was a firefighter working in a corrections facility in Kent County, Md., when the deadly hurricane struck in 2005.

Bird traveled to Jackson, Miss., with a group of emergency workers, where he was assigned to the state’s short-staffed Emergency Operations Center. Bird worked under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact operations chief.

Bird spent five weeks in Jackson coordinating response and relief efforts.

“If Mississippi needed 1,000 police officers, we found police officers from around the country and brought them in,” Bird said.

Bird’s responsibilities grew during his five-week stay. He faced his greatest challenge less than a month after Katrina as a second storm, Hurricane Rita, formed in the Gulf of Mexico.

Roughly 100,000 aid workers were in Mississippi at the time, including about 70,000 members of the National Guard. The EOC lacked a system for tracking the multitude of aid workers, to make matters worse.

Bird was assigned to figure out how to track and care of the sizable population, and he was given about 12 hours to complete the job.

“We had to prepare a Plan B,” Bird said. “There are 100,000 people already in a disaster zone. What do you do with them? How do house them? How do you treat their injuries?”

Rita missed Mississippi, but the tracking system created by Bird and others remained a valuable asset. It became the template for a system now used across the nation to track the contact information and team leaders of aid groups that respond disasters.

Bird knew he wanted to work in emergency mitigation following his experience in post-Katrina Mississippi.

“After being thrown in to that trial by fire, I knew that was my passion,” he said.

Bird returned to Maryland and took a job with Kent County’s emergency services department, where he eventually was promoted to deputy director. He continued responding to disasters across the country, like the flooding of the Des Moines River in 2008, and Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

Bird moved to Traverse City in 2012 after he visited the town that January.

“There was always kind of a vision in my mind of the city I wanted to live in,” he said. “I rounded the corner from Union to Front Street, and there was the vision.”

County officials reviewed more than 80 applicants for the emergency services supervisor position; they sought a candidate who communicates well with multiple agencies, has experience in different emergency disciplines and has an academic background in planning, County Health Officer Wendy Trute said.

”Gregg Bird has all of the above,” Trute said.

Bird’s professional experience includes stints as a 911 dispatcher and an EMS chief. He also helped prepare a universal preparedness guide for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

He is slated to start his new position March 11 at a base salary of about $49,000, Semen said. His appointment as emergency management coordinator does not include additional salary or benefits.