Craft takes over as OEM head

Works to expand on foundation the late James Callahan had built


No one can replace James “Jim” Callahan III, the late commissioner of the county Office of Emergency Management, described by county Executive Ed Mangano as a well-respected, “great public servant” dedicated to keeping the county safe. But someone has taken his place as the OEM commissioner.

Earlier this month, the County Legislature officially named Craig Craft commissioner of the agency. Craft, 47, came to OEM to serve as Callahan’s deputy commissioner in June 2010, and was asked to take over as acting commissioner when Callahan, who served as the deputy mayor of Malverne, became ill and was hospitalized this past April. He remained at that post throughout Callahan’s six-week hospitalization and after his May 26 death.

Prior to joining OEM, Craft, 47, was a regional supervisor for the Hempstead Town Department of Parks and Recreation, where he worked since 1996. When the town decided to create an emergency management team, Craft took on various responsibilities, including equipment purchasing and procuring projects and developing safety initiatives. He also brought the National Incident Management System to the town, starting a training program for Parks employees.

Craft, a Wantagh resident, has been involved in the emergency preparedness field for many years, particularly as a member of the Wantagh Fire Department, one of the largest in the county. He joined the department in 1982 and served as a chief and captain for many years. Since 1994, he has been elected as a fire commissioner there. “I spent a lot of time in training preparedness and my true passion was public education,” Craft said, noting that he started a “robust” education division within the fire service.

“I like to think that I’m taking a lot of those ideas and initiatives and bringing them into the office of emergency management,” Craft said. “I’m taking the foundation that Jim built and building on it.”

In his five years as the OEM commissioner, Callahan was responsible for overseeing planning, response and mitigation to all disasters, and coordinating the county’s efforts with state and local organizations. Under his leadership, OEM handled a number of events, including the April 2007 nor’easter, the 2008 West Nile Virus outbreak, the protests at the 2008 Hofstra presidential debate, the 2009 H1N1 outbreak and several weather disaster declarations. Callahan also worked with the American Red Cross earlier this year to create the county’s first kosher disaster evacuation center at West Hempstead High School.

In recognition of his excellence, dedication, accomplishments in emergency management, Callahan was named the 2005 New York State Emergency Manager of the Year by the Northeast States Emergency Management Consortium.

Throughout the last few months, OEM has been networking with the public and private sectors. “We’re out there every day building relationships or renewing relationships that might have been disconnected somewhere along the way, preparing for that big emergency, whether it’s man-made or natural,” Craft said. The Salvation Army, for example, has been reintroduced as part of the emergency management plan for the county. “A big process and a big initiative of the 2011 office of emergency management is public preparedness, updating plans … and bringing additional grant funds into the county.”

The agency has also been working on improving its preventive maintenance programs and upgrading its technology, according to Craft, who said that the county’s response to Tropical Storm Irene, which ravaged parts of the region during the last weekend in August, is an example of how effective those improvements were. “Jim had built a foundation for a hurricane response plan, a debris management plan, which Nassau County was the first to have,” Craft said, “and we took that foundation leading up to this, took that 120-hour timeline that Jim had developed and worked on and drilled into us while he was here, and expanded on that.”

Among new technologies the agency is utilizing is software called E-Team, which allows it to obtain and share vital information at the time of any major event and also on a day-to-day basis. It has also brought interoperable radio communication technology into the emergency operations center to enhance communications with other agencies.

“My goal is to have E-Team utilized every day” to improve reporting and awareness, Craft said, adding, however, that the existing team of OEM employees has performed well beyond expectations, despite being somewhat short-staffed. “The team here has really put together a great program and great preparedness initiative for the people out there.”