Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Interim Emergency Management director replaced

BROOKSVILLE — County Administrator David Hamilton has again shaken up the county's bruised Office of Emergency Management, this time in reaction to last week's botched performance during the statewide hurricane drill.

After meeting with the staff, Hamilton announced Tuesday that Cecilia Patella will replace Mark Tobert as the interim emergency management director. Until a new director is chosen, county Health and Human Services Director Jean Rags will oversee the department.

Also, the county will have a hurricane drill do-over on June 27, giving the emergency management team another chance to show that it is ready to respond to a disaster. And Hamilton is inviting the media to observe.

"I'm anticipating significant improvements'' in the second drill, he said.

"I'm making these changes based on the need to assure the community that emergency management is completely prepared and assure the county board to whom I report that we're in a position to handle any possible emergency,'' Hamilton said.

Patella said she and the staff are confident that they are prepared. Last week's drill stalled due to computer problems from a program designed by former emergency manager Tom Leto and another employee who is no longer there.

The program was not loaded onto the central computer in the Emergency Operations Center and drill participants unfamiliar with it fell so far behind that mock Category 3 Hurricane Herb had already hit Hernando County by the time they were in full operation.

Patella said Tuesday that the real issues were lack of knowledge and training in the system. "We're willing to give this software a chance,'' she said.

Hamilton attended that drill and left the session feeling concerned about the state of emergency management. He said he decided to make the staff change after realizing that Patella's education and experience made her a more appropriate interim director.

She has coordinated the county's mitigation program since 2005 and has 17 years of experience in project management, business continuity and disaster recovery in both the private and public sectors. She has a bachelor's degree in business administration and business management and is certified as a Florida professional emergency manager.

In her current position, she has secured more than $2-million in grants, helped lower flood insurance premiums for county residents, worked with the debris removal and debris monitoring contracts and managed complex software development projects.

The change means that Tobert, who has been interim director since Leto was fired, will return to his original position as senior coordinator.

Hamilton said that having Rags oversee emergency management in the interim is a good fit because he sees the purpose of the department as two-fold.

There is the immediate policing aspect in an emergency and discussions about turning over the department to the sheriff will continue. But Hamilton also notes the human side of disaster response, functions such as helping people find their families, their pets, securing food and shelter.

Rags has overseen health and human services since 1999 and the Veteran Service Office for the past two years. After Hurricane Katrina, Rags was tapped by the state and worked in Mississippi to help coordinate volunteers and donations.

This is not the first time that emergency management has fit under another department in county government. In in the past, there was a time when it fell under the responsibility of the fire chief.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at or (352) 848-1434.

Interim Emergency Management director replaced 06/10/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 12, 2008 5:05pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Missouri governor halts man's execution after DNA questions


    ST. LOUIS — Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens halted Tuesday's scheduled execution of condemned killer Marcellus Williams after DNA raised questions about his guilt.

    This February 2014 photo provided by the Missouri Department of Corrections shows death row inmate Marcellus Williams. [Missouri Department of Corrections via AP]
  2. Suspect in robbery of Brandon woman, 86, has been arrested more than 40 times


    BRANDON — One spring day in 2012, Marcus Wayne Hunt walked out the of Orient Road jail a free man after posting bail on a charge of fleeing from police and driving without a license

    This surveillance photo shows Marcus Hunt, 28, pointing a gun at an 86-year-old woman as she unloaded groceries from her car parked at her Brandon home on Monday, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. Hunt fled in the Toyota Corolla and was arrested shortly after midnight Tuesday. 
[Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  3. Killings put spotlight on possible neo-Nazi threat


    TAMPA — The friendship of the four young roommates — though cemented in the dark trappings of an obscure neo-Nazi group called Atomwaffen Division — never seemed destined for bloodshed.

    This undated photo provided by Kianna Kaizer, shows  Jeremy Himmelman and his girlfriend Kianna Kaizer. Himmelman was fatally shot along with his friend Andrew Oneschuk, 18, by a roommate in the Tampa apartment the men all shared.  [AP photo]
  4. Fire at Wesley Chapel home leads to discovery of marijuana plants


    WESLEY CHAPEL — A fire that broke out Monday at a Wesley Chapel home led to the discovery of a room with marijuana plants, the Pasco Sheriff's Office said.

  5. Kriseman gets 2nd police union endorsement


    Mayor Rick Kriseman is already backed by the city's largest police union, the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman has secured another police union endorsement