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Emergency management director retires

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett is searching for a new emergency management coordinator, after the man who led the county in the wake of a major tornado and helped thousands of Hurricane Katrina victims retired.

Frank Daniell left the job just a couple of months after the position was transferred from the Fire Department, where he worked for more than 20 years, to the Police Department.

In April, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency named Gwinnett's Homeland Security Director Alan Doss as director of emergency management. The post had previously been held by the fire chief.

At about the same time period earlier this year, Fire Chief Jack McElfish resigned amid a scandal in the fire marshal's office, but County Administrator Jock Connell said the decision on emergency management was unrelated to the fire marshal's office problems.

"When we created homeland security late last year, we asked Alan to look at the lay of the land," Connell said. "It became clear that many of the things emergency management did were very closely aligned with homeland security."

Steve Rolader, who became the fire chief after McElfish was forced to resign, said he didn't know the details about the department but had known for a year that there was a possibility of emergency management moving to the police department.

"All of us thought emergency management was a no-brainer" to join the homeland security office, Rolader said. "It's a natural fit. ... Even if Chief McElfish stayed, that would have happened eventually."

The coordinator's job wasn't officially transferred to the Police Department until July 1 because of budget reasons, Doss said, although Daniell reported to him for months.

Daniell had continued to work out of the Fire Department headquarters, and his replacement will be located there, too, until a new police precinct is finished in the Dacula area, Doss said.

He said Daniell had expressed concerns over the transfer, but Daniell, who was reached at home Tuesday night, said his decision to leave had nothing to do with the reorganization.

"That's where civil defense was born, out of preparedness for an attack by an enemy country," Daniell said, saying that natural disasters were added later. "The process has come full circle. ... I think the two functions complement each other."

Other local agencies have placed emergency management with a homeland security office, most notably Gwinnett's neighbor, DeKalb County.

Daniell said he decided to retire when he got a call from Washington. The American Red Cross had decided to hire liaisons to work between the agency and state and federal emergency management officials in 13 of the most disaster-prone states, including Georgia.

"It was an exciting new opportunity. I might have regretted not doing it," Daniell said.

In the time since his hiring in mid-June, Daniell already has traveled to Tallahassee to help with emergency management there, and he will soon travel to Biloxi, Miss., to help until a liaison is hired in that state.

He said Gwinnett's response to Hurricane Katrina was likely one of the reasons that the job was offered to him.

Last year, when thousands of people fled the devastated Gulf Coast, the county was one of three hosts for emergency relief centers.

A former Wal-Mart the county had recently purchased in Lawrenceville became a clearinghouse for evacuees to receive assistance from a dozen county and state agencies as well as nonprofits, with the Red Cross and Daniell acting as chief organizers.

Other centers were set up in Cobb and DeKalb counties, but they closed earlier than the Gwinnett location.

"I was fortunate to be a part of that," Daniell said.

While the Red Cross wanted Daniell to start his new job at the end of May or beginning of June, he stayed on with the county until June 23, explaining that he wanted to help finish projects and leave things in order.

Rolader said he got emotional when Daniell told him of his retirement, since the two have worked closely together for more than two decades.

"I was jealous of Frank getting such a wonderful opportunity," he said with a laugh. "I certainly understood."

According to Doss, a position as assistant or clerk to the homeland security coordinator is also open. Karla Long has the job now, and has for quite some time, but he said she "wouldn't work out" in his area, Doss said.

Rolader said Long would remain in the Fire Department as part of the administrative support staff.