It’s their job: Emergencies part of job duties

Keith Wattenbarger moved to Portales 26 years ago to play football on a scholarship at Eastern New Mexico University and decided to stay. Wattenbarger is the Roosevelt County Emergency Management director.

He met his wife a week after moving to Portales. They have been married for 21 years and have five children.

What is your degree?

I have a degree in business administration.

I actually came here to be a commercial artist and at the time ENMU had a very good commercial art program… the best in the southwest and still do. The more I got into the aspect of commercial art, I was exposed to marketing. So, I got a degree in business administration.

What led you to become emergency manager for the county?

I’ve worked with the police department before. After I got out of college I put some resumes out for some feelers. A job opened up in the detention center and I worked there for a little bit.

Then, I saw our guys doing police work. I got an itch to do that, so I did that for four years. I loved it and spent a lot of time doing it.

My wife was a little concerned because of all the hours I was working because she wanted to know when we were going to start a family. So I did probation (and) parole for almost 14 years.

I had a heart attack, did some re-evaluation and started looking into some other things — even moving back east — when this opportunity came up.

What does emergency management entail?

No two days are the same. One day I might be working on some grants. The next day, I may be preparing a full blown exercise to go through a mock disaster.

I… look at everything that is on the table that the city and the county have to deal with concerning disasters. And, I review the plans that are in place to deal with it, such as, pandemics, weather related incidents, hazardous materials, potential terrorist attacks. Those types of things.

I try to sit down and figure out what kind of resources we have and figure out where things are at…what… we have. Then, try to figure out how to fill those gaps.

What do you prepare for an emergency?

First of all we try to take a proactive approach. Weather is a our biggest problem.

During the springtime, we get the high winds and the grass fires. In the winter time, we get snow, ice and the things that could happen with that or the people (who) might be displaced while traveling.

My role is to step up and be liaison in different roles.

If it was a city event the mayor was directly dealing with, then I will be a liaison between department heads, other government agencies and different types of resources that might be needed.

My job is to go the mayor and say this is what we have in place; statutory limits, current resource list and help. To basically support any decision a department head or who ever the commander is at the time overseeing something… make their job easier by providing them with the tools to make good decisions.