Local Marine to head Ohio county's emergency agency
Michael R. Pannell, 52, takes over an agency widely criticized as stuck in the 1970s.
By Barbara Carmen
The Columbus Dispatch
FRANKLIN COUNTY, Ohio — The agency that keeps Franklin County residents safe from tornadoes and terrorism will be headed by a Marine colonel who has trained and commanded security forces from Iraq to Africa.
Michael R. Pannell, named yesterday as director of emergency management and homeland security for Franklin County, takes over an agency widely criticized as stuck in the 1970s.
It remains wounded by scuffles over management, public distrust and disheartened employees. Its most recent director, a former Columbus political appointee, left for a similar job in Cleveland after being blamed for the near-destruction of the county's tornado-warning sirens.
"If a colonel in the Marine Corps can't run this place, I don't know who can," said EMA board member and Franklin County Commissioner Paula Brooks.
Brooks noted that Pannell also has extensive experience responding to situations involving the handling of hazardous materials.
Jim Williams, a board member and Gahanna's emergency-management director, said Pannell's leadership experience stood out: "We have, for the past 15 years, been lacking for leadership."
Pannell, 52, will start July 14 and be paid $103,000 a year, about the same as former director Gary Holland.
The two finalists for the job had strong resumes. Bary C. Lusby, operations manager of Hamilton County's emergency-management agency, has more than 20 years in the field.
But Pannell's leadership and loyalty to central Ohio gave him an edge: He grew up in Whitehall and served as acting director of Port Columbus in the mid-'80s. In an interview earlier this week, Pannell said he had turned down several job offers that would have taken his family away from their Gahanna home.
"Leadership absolutely is what I bring to the position," he said. "The last 10 years, I have had significant homeland security, counterterrorism and antiterrorism experience in the military."
He has run multistate exercises and coordinated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Pannell, a colonel in the Reserve, is set to retire from duty as the deputy commanding general of the 4th Marine Division. He formerly was chief of staff of the Marine Corps Anti-Terrorism Brigade.
Pannell said he's seen threats come "at us from all angles, any time. I have seen how people handle adversity when they are prepared for it, and when they are not. I want to be a part of the process to make sure that our community is prepared for anything."
The Franklin County EMA coordinates disaster planning, education, warning response and recovery services.
Board President Jane Brautigam said Pannell's experience will "help to re-energize the agency, strengthening intergovernmental relationships, re-establishing trust and credibility in the community and, above all, building a safety net for Franklin County's families and residents."
Copyright 2008 The Columbus Dispatch