CHARLESTON, WV (WOAY) – The name has changed, but the mission is the same: the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety is now the Department of Homeland Security, and remains committed to ensuring a safe and secure West Virginia.
Gov. Jim Justice had proposed this change as part of his legislative agenda during this year’s regular session. His successful measure, Senate Bill 586, became law Thursday.
SB 586 designates the department’s secretary as West Virginia’s Homeland Security Advisor (HSA). Keeping the governor advised of all homeland security matters, the secretary as HSA is now also responsible for coordinating, designing, and implementing West Virginia’s homeland security program. The HSA is also the principal point of contact between the state and the federal government with respect to homeland security issues.
The legislation establishes the W.Va. National Guard as a separate entity within the governor’s Cabinet. What had been DMAPS’ other agencies remain with the Cabinet Department of Homeland Security, with some internal changes:
- SB 586 renames the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM) as the Division of Emergency Management. It will be commonly known as Emergency Management or EM.
- The agency will continue to lead the state’s response to manmade or natural disasters, ensuring the protection of life and property by providing coordination, guidance, support and assistance to local emergency managers and first responders.
- The State Fire Marshal will continue to report to the secretary of Homeland Security but no longer to the State Fire Commission.
- The commission had previously shared administrative oversight, and also hired the Fire Marshal. The governor will now make that appointment, from a list submitted by the Fire Commission.
- The Office of the State Fire Marshal now has sole jurisdiction over the licensure and certification of home inspectors, building code officials, and other relevant inspectors from the State Fire Commission. The office also continues full enforcement authority for building and fire codes.
- The State Fire Commission retains full authority over all fire departments in West Virginia, and the rules pertaining to their equipment, training, certification, and evaluation. The commission will also continue to promulgate legislative rules for the state fire and building codes.
- The State Fire Marshal is now an ex-officio (non-voting) member of the State Fire Commission.
SB 586 also creates the Office of Administrative Hearings within the department. This office will oversee all initial grievance proceedings for the department’s agencies except for the State Police, and most appeals of State Fire Marshal and State Fire Commission decisions and orders.
The department’s remaining agencies are the W.Va. State Police; the Division of Administrative Services; the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation; the Parole Board; the W.Va. Fusion Center; and the Division of Protective Services, also known as the Capitol Police.
Separate legislation taking effect next month, House Bill 4509, will move the Parole Board to Corrections and Rehabilitation. Another bill effective in June, HB 4176, will add the Fusion Center to State Code.
Secretary Jeff Sandy considers a key benefit of these changes the potential improvement to state government’s financial effectiveness. Administrative Services’ nationally recognized grant specialists will now work alongside those at Emergency Management. DAS will also perform accounting, human resources and procurement tasks for Emergency Management. The department’s legal unit, formed in 2017, will oversee all disaster-related legal contracts and agreements.
“With the handling of millions of dollars in federal grants, a strong financial presence is required,” Sandy said.
County and local governments with law enforcement challenges will benefit as well, Sandy said. They can request assistance from the State Police, Capitol Police, Fire Marshal and Corrections investigators. The Fusion Center, meanwhile, will continue to provide law enforcement support, and Corrections inmate work crews can assist with road and debris cleanup projects.
Future plans of the Department of Homeland Security include a program modeled on the FBI National Academy to provide world-class training to West Virginia’s county and local emergency managers. This academy will provide training as recommended by the executive board for the W.Va. Emergency Management Council and a new Homeland Security Advisory Board.
Sandy has announced the board’s members: Deputy Secretary Thom Kirk; Dean Meadows, president of the WVEMC; State Police Lt. Colonel David Nelson; Capitol Police Director Kevin Foreman; Deputy Corrections Commissioner Paul Simmons; State Fire Marshal Ken Tyree; Fusion Center Director Jack Luikart; Administrative Services Director Jennifer Wilson; and legal unit leader Stacy Nowicki.
The Cabinet department was initially organized as the Department of Public Safety in 1989, through legislation that restructured the governor’s share of West Virginia’s executive branch. It added Military Affairs to its name in 1992.
The department’s mission remains intact: to provide a safe and secure state by ensuring the proper response to all levels, manners and phases of emergencies, disasters and crimes. The same is true for the role of the Office of the Secretary: it provides support, oversight and guidance to agencies involved in all facets of public safety. This includes law enforcement and other first response agencies as well as the state’s criminal justice, correctional and homeland security systems.
This is readily apparently as multiple agencies within the department continue to assist with the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. From overseeing the State Emergency Operations Center and distributing much-needed personal protective equipment to facilitating the enhanced testing recently directed for correctional facilities, WVDHS remains in the thick of the fight against COVID-19.