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Palm Coast Friday, Jul. 28, 2017 2 years ago

Jennifer Stagg, departing county emergency planning manager, advises businesses on hurricane preparedness

Stagg's employment with the Flagler County government was marred by controversy last year. She is leaving to take a position in Pasco County.
by: Ray Boone Sports Editor

After almost seven years of employment in Flagler, Flagler County Emergency Management Planner Jennifer Stagg is moving on, Stagg announced at a meeting with Flagler Beach business owners on July 26.

Stagg — who, eight months ago after Hurricane Matthew, successfully fought an effort to fire her — recently accepted an emergency management position in Pasco County, located on Florida’s west coast nearly 140 miles southwest of Flagler.

Stagg will conclude her duties in Flagler on Aug. 2 and start her new job on Aug. 7.

“It’s very much going to mess me up that the coast is in the west and I’m in the east,” she joked.

Flagler County Public Safety Emergency Manager Steve Garten, Stagg's supervisor, said that recent department hire John Caprio will take on Stagg's role in an interim capacity.

Caprio previously worked in emergency operations for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and in emergency medical services in Pembroke Pines, and will now have the title "emergency management coordinator," and the possibility that the role will become permanent.

Garten, who'd charged Stagg with various professional infractions in Fall of 2016, leading to her five-day unpaid suspension, said of her July 28, "She has definitely grown and is a vital asset of our department. She will be missed."

In Pasco County, Stagg will be working under the supervision of Kevin Guthrie, the former Flagler County public safety emergency manager who is now Pasco County's assistant county administrator for public safety. Guthrie stood up for Stagg publicly when her job was threatened after he'd left, calling news of her potential firing "shocking" and asking others to show up to support her in a pre-disciplinary hearing.

The risks to businesses

Flagler County could lose up to 60% of its business tax base if conditions aren’t returned to normal following a disaster, Stagg told the business leaders at the July 26 meeting. 

“It would send us back to the dark ages," she said.

The county government, she said, hopes to become more involved with the community’s private sector — namely small businesses — during the recovery process, something she said the county did a poor job of during her time here.

“Ninety-five percent of what we do is not response work,” she said. “It’s preparedness, it’s mitigation and then, if you have something happen, it’s recovery.”

“Most small business owners are like me,” she said. “They can’t go very long without a paycheck before they’re going to have to figure out Plan B. … Those people will have gone elsewhere and laid down roots and do what they need to do.

Garten told the Palm Coast Observer that previous study has shown that 35% of businesses that sustain a Category 3 or higher storm without having an emergency plan in place never reopen their doors.

Preparing for a storm 

The county's emergency services department acknowledged in its Hurricane Matthew after-action report that it needs to have better communication with businesses to help them prepare properly before a storm, Garten said. 

"Now, we’re focusing on that," he said. "We’re using the economic development department to talk with them to get them that information." 

The county is also assembling mapping information on which businesses have generators and will be able to open quickly after a storm while the power is still out, so it can let the public know which places are open.

Stagg noted that Matthew was an unprecedented event for the community, and assessed her role during Hurricane Matthew and how the county performed during the storm.

“From my perspective … as long as nobody dies, I’m OK,” she said. “We did alright. It was very brutal, and if I’m 100% honest, it was the worst activation of my life.”

Flagler Beach Fire Chief Bobby Pace, who also attended the meeting, said he was proud of emergency services' response to the storm.

“I couldn’t be prouder of how the city has rebounded from this,” he said. “There’s still a long ways to go. … But we’ve learned a lot.”

— Jonathan Simmons contributed to this report.

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