This is not a drill

EMA director Don Roybal

EMA director Don Roybal

Don Roybal hardly had time to get back from his honeymoon, literally – he was married immediately after reporting March 31 to his new job as Blount County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) director – before he was plunged into a major natural disaster when multiple tornadoes blasted Blount County the night of April 28. It was no drill. It was all too real for many families on Straight Mountain and scattered locations elsewhere around the county.

Since then, he has been up to his neck in Federal Emergency Management Agency coordination to survey the damage in multiple iterations to get the county qualified for individual disaster assistance, to get it declared a disaster area to open the funding valve for repairing public infrastructure, and to coordinate assistance with the state contractor to haul off both vegetative debris, a process just completed last week.

He stole an hour late last week to introduce himself through this interview to county residents – not that it’s as if he’s from a foreign country. He’s not. He was raised in Pinson though born in North Carolina to a military family and detouring briefly to Maine and New Hampshire. The pull of maternal relatives in Pinson and Blount County brought him back by the age of 9, where he’s been ever since, graduating from Pinson Valley High School in 1978.

He worked for the telephone company for 17 years, then for the Alabama Service and Assistance Patrol helping stranded motorists along Jefferson County interstates for 11 more years, before hiring on at the Jefferson County EMA office for eight years, where he was emergency management officer, when he applied for the Blount County EMA job vacated by the retiring Max Armstrong.

Glancing over his resume, two impressions are overwhelming. He is extensively trained for the job, and he’s an amazingly detail-oriented guy (which he readily admits) like that’s the cherry on top of the job). For instance, he lists three pages worth of training courses attended. That’s 144 different courses ranging in duration from a couple of hours to a couple of weeks apiece – over the last eight years.

They’re broken down into three categories: 15 courses in-residence (EMA-sponsored), 44 courses independent study (mostly online, one to four hours), and 57 courses of other training (often vendor-agency sponsored, at their location). Taking that much training is remarkable in and of itself, exceeded only by the degree of discipline needed to manage the record-keeping to keep up with them over that period of time.

Roybal said the previous job at Jefferson County is not greatly different from the Blount County job – mainly a difference in degree.

“My responsibilities here are not as specific and detailed as at the Jefferson County EMA. Generally speaking, responsibilities here are broader being director, and there’s more opportunity to learn. There are many more agencies and municipalities in Jefferson County than here, but that enables me to devote more time to the ones that are here. Basically, the same functional entities are here – municipalities, police, fire, and various agencies – there are just not as many of them.”

As to changes he might want to make in the foreseeable future, Roybal mentions two.“I want to target emergency plans for Blount County, specifically to improve notifications – to first responders, municipalities, and the public. I also want to develop a more active VOAD ( Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters) group.” ( VOAD consists of a committee of various organizations involved in disaster response that meet quarterly to coordinate needs, training, and other activities.)

Roybal says his overall priorities in life are job, church, and family. His family as noted has recently expanded to include wife Tracie, formerly Tracie Johnson of Remlap, who works at Self, Maples, and Copeland, an accounting firm in Oneonta. Their first challenge, Roybal says, is to determine a permanent residence in the county, living for the present at her home in Oneonta, while his former home in Pinson is for sale.

Remaining to decide is whether to focus on renovating and furnishing their present home or finding a suitable new one for the family.

Roybal said he is active in his church – Solid Rock Church in Pinson – where he is a member of the ministry team and the praise team, where he both plays and teaches guitar to aspiring musicians. He said he enjoys reading religious history along with commentaries on the Bible and other books by Christian authors.

What would he identify as things he would like to do or accomplish in the future?

“If you’re asking me about my long term goals, I’d say improving and developing all my relationships on the job, and being more active in the community.” he said.“And then there’s my family – that’ll be a major thing.”