BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness directs disaster responses after storms, cyber attacks, and other threats to the state. The new director is making changes to get resources to people sooner in a crisis.
“All of those dollars mean everything to the parish and municipalities, and it’s just about moving that money faster and being more efficient as a governmental agency,” said GOHSEP Director, Jacques Thibodeaux.
In his first month in office, Thibodeaux is looking for ways to speed up FEMA money getting into the hands of cities trying to rebuild from a disaster. With adjustments to the Express Pay process – 90% of Federal Public Assistance and Hazard Mitigation money can be dispersed. The remaining 10% will go through the mandated audit process.
“GOHSEP as an organization is about $3.1 billion. But 94% of that is federal pass-through dollars. So, we’re constantly looking in the legislative bodies, both state and federal, on how we can move that money quicker,” Thibodeaux said.
He has experience working under four different governors in the National Guard and U.S. Marshals. Now the state is facing new threats through wildfires and freezes, and he is working with the team to develop plans on how to better keep people safe.
“We, we have a cycle that we use, and we respond to it the same way. The thing about Louisiana, we’re challenged is with we don’t understand ice and we don’t understand snow if you’re not from the northern Louisiana area. That was one of the first things that we faced,” Thibodeaux said.
The department is taking lessons learned from disasters such as Hurricane Ida – where communications between the law enforcement network went down for a time after the storm made landfall.
“One of our five divisions works nothing more than security and interoperability. So, it’s a constant focus for us to keep those communications going, because if you can’t talk, you can’t respond,” Thibodeaux said.
As hurricane season is on the horizon, Thibodeaux, who is a resident of the city he shares a name with, is developing plans on how to get resources out faster to the hardest hit areas in any given disaster.
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“You can’t win against Mother Nature. The best you can do is fight to a draw. So, what I tell people is we’re going to work as hard as we can every day to get those resources through the cycle as quickly as we can,” Thibodeaux said.
He also talked about developing the office of school safety and cyber security measures that have been passed by the legislature in recent years.