Q & A with Justin Hess, Burbank’s Director of Emergency Services

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Twenty years as a City of Burbank public administrator has given City Manager Justin Hess a number of opportunities and plenty of experience. Starting his career as an intern, Hess worked his way through the ranks of the city’s administrative departments. During his 20 years with the City of Burbank, Hess served as Deputy Service Manager, Financial Service Director, Management Service Director and Community Development Director.

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When a city emergency occurs, Hess takes on the additional duty of Director of Emergency Services. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across California, and infection cases continue to rise, Hess was interviewed via email regarding his job as Director of Emergency Services.

What exactly is your role, and what are your duties?

The City has a Disaster Council that helps create plans in the event of a disaster. During a disaster event, the City Manager acts in his normal state, but if a State of Emergency is declared, his powers are increased, and he becomes Director of Emergency Services, so that he can make timely decisions to protect the health and safety of our citizens. These acts are later reported and ratified by the City Council.  

What authority do you have as Director?

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Once a state of emergency is declared the City Manager acting as the Director of Emergency Services is empowered…to do the following:

  • To make and issue rules and regulations on matters reasonably related to the protection of life and property as affected by such an emergency.
  • To obtain vital supplies, equipment and such other properties found lacking and needed for the protection of life…and if required immediately, to commandeer [them] for public use.
  • To require emergency services of any City officer or employee, and in the event of the proclamation of a “state of emergency” in [Los Angeles] county, or the existence of a “state of war emergency”, to command the aid of as many citizens of this community as he deems necessary in the execution of his duties.
  • To requisition necessary personnel or material of any City department or agency.
  • To execute all of his ordinary powers as City Manager, and all of the special powers conferred upon him.

The City proclaimed the existence of a local emergency due to the pandemic under the Burbank Municipal Code on March 13, 2020, which the City Council confirmed on March 17, 2020.  In their resolution confirming the local disaster, the City Council reiterated the powers granted to the Director of Emergency Services pursuant to the Code. Three local orders [were issued]; two dealing with social distancing and facemask rules and one closing City parks during the Easter weekend.

During the COVID-19 crisis, what have you done, and what are you currently working on?

Being essential, the City staff along with the City Council are working together to guarantee the continuity of government while protecting all of our citizens and our staff members.  This includes making a number of decisions that have resulted in closures of City buildings and non-essential services along with the issuance of Orders to help flatten the curve of COVID-19.  We are continuing these efforts while also making plans on how best to reopen city facilities and services when it is deemed safe to do so.  We don’t have a current date, although we know the Los Angeles County Safer at Home Order is currently set to expire on May 15th.

Who do you work with directly?

As Director of Emergency Services, I meet with all the executives on a daily basis. The city executives act as the emergency policy group.

Is there an emergency command center activated?

Currently, the City has an Emergency Command Center activated in the Community Services Building.

What are some of the past emergencies you have dealt with?

We have had some notable events in the recent past. I have been involved with emergency operations resulting from the La Tuna fire in 2017 and subsequent flooding, and while the current situation is different, the prior events have enabled staff to hone our emergency response processes. We have experienced and dedicated people who are highly trained to respond to the current COVID-19 crisis.

When working with County officials, what are the challenges?

We are in constant communication with our County officials. Our Emergency Management Coordinator, Eric Baumgardner, has daily briefings with our County and neighboring city counterparts that are then shared with our executive team each morning. We have a good working relationship with the County.

What do you appreciate about your job as Director of Emergency Services?

Two things; First our City Council is good to work with. They sometimes have hard decisions to make, and they do it with care, respect for each other, a desire to understand the situation, while keeping in mind what is best for the community as a whole. Secondly, our staff is one of the best teams around. They are knowledgeable, experienced and professional.

For updates and information on the City of Burbank’s Coronavirus emergency go to: https://www.burbankca.gov/what-s-new/coronavirus)

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