Monday, May 30, 2005

Key county emergency management expert retiring

Source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Just five days before the beginning of hurricane season, Palm Beach County said Friday one of its emergency preparedness veterans, Emergency Management Director Bill O'Brien, would retire in a few weeks.

Though due to retire effective June 30, he's still working on emergency preparedness. O'Brien was out of the office at a conference on Friday, said his boss, Paul Milelli, the county's director of public safety.

Milelli and Vince Bonvento, the assistant county administrator who oversees emergency preparedness, said O'Brien played a pivotal role in the county's response to many disasters during his eight years as emergency management chief.

"His experience was put to the test on many notable occasions: the terrorism attacks at the World Trade Center and the anthrax attack in Boca [Raton]; the loss of shelter space prior to the threat of Hurricane Floyd; the north-county tornados; and, most recently, hurricanes Frances and Jeanne," Bonvento said in a memo to county commissioners.

Milelli said the emergency management department changed under O'Brien's leadership.

"He brought a level of planning and operations to the organization that really wasn't there previously. That brought us more into pre-preparation for incidents than in the past," Milelli said. "A lot of times in the past we were kind of reactive. Now, we're proactive."

It wasn't the rigors of last year's hurricane season that led O'Brien to retire, Milelli said. O'Brien was in the deferred retirement option offered by the state, and would have had to retire by mid-2006.

"We have been talking about it for some period of time. He has been very upfront with us about saying he's been looking at leaving for the last several months," Milelli said.

His salary is about $85,000 a year.

O'Brien started the job in 1997 after three years as the state Emergency Management Division's South Florida area coordinator and 15 years as Martin County public safety director. He aided recovery efforts after the ValuJet crash in the Everglades and Hurricane Andrew.

O'Brien retired from the military in 1979 as a decorated major, earning the Bronze Star and the South Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry for his service in the Vietnam War.

He spent 20 years in the Signal Corps, work in which he provided military communications at the White House and at President Lyndon Johnson's Texas ranch.

Milelli will fill in as emergency director until a replacement is named in September or October.


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