Island’s ‘Master of Disaster’ hit by economic storm

Ed Call has spent the last year and a half getting Bainbridge Islanders ready for natural disasters.

But before an earthquake rattled the bridge or a storm knocked out the island’s power, a man-made disaster struck, and Call one of its first victims.

“When I saw the economic condition of the city, and then the country, I knew the writing was on the wall for me,” said Call, the city’s emergency preparedness coordinator.

Call’s position was cut from the city’s proposed budget in an effort to reduce spending amid sharply declining revenues. Along with Call, the city plans to cut a police officer position, six public works positions and other jobs as part of an 10 percent staffing reduction.

As a contract employee, Call considered himself “an anomaly in the fiscal program” that would likely go to the front of the line for the chopping block.

But if the city had to choose between him or another cop, Call said the city made the right decision in cutting his position, which focuses on emergency preparedness presentations and city staff training. The Hansville resident has also worked to improve emergency planning coordination and communication between police, the city, fire department and other organizations.

“The city needs to think about public safety first, and that means having officers on the job,” he said.

Call’s work, including almost 200 presentations to community and neighborhood groups, will make the job of a shrinking police department easier when disaster strikes, said Bainbridge Police Chief Matt Haney.

“He’s done an extraordinary job,” he said. “Ed has really gotten the word out to citizens that emergency preparedness is not a one-time thing, and neighbors have to help each other.”

Bainbridge Fire Chief Hank Teran said Call has driven home the point to residents that the island’s emergency responders can’t do everything for everyone during a disaster.

“The island is just too big to give individual service in a large disaster,” he said. “Ed’s had a big impact in getting people to know they’ll need to provide for themselves.”

Call has worked with neighborhoods to make them more self-sufficient. During consultations and meetings, Call has helped groups of residents determine who has valuable tools for emergencies, such as chainsaws and generators, and who has specialized training that can be of service during a disaster.

“I’ve put my ugly mug in front of as many community groups that would listen to me,” said Call, estimating that he’s presented to neighborhood groups representing 75 percent of the island.

One of Call’s most ambitious projects was an emergency flotilla drill in May aimed at transporting city workers to the island in case the Agate Pass bridge is damaged by an earthquake. Over 60 percent of city employees, several firefighters and nearly 70 percent of police officers live off-island, making emergency responses and infrastructure repairs difficult if the bridge falls.

Prepared for economic as well as natural disasters, Call had already been discussing employment with Kitsap County when he got the official word from the city that his job wasn’t included in the proposed budget. He’s been working a few extra hours a day for the county’s Department of Emergency Management, and hopes to have fulltime work once his city contract expires at the end of December.

“I think the island’s better prepared than it was two years ago, and I’ve had a blast helping here,” said Call.