Susan Dueñas is expected to become a well-known face in Malibu as she takes on the duties of the newly created Public Safety Manager position. She was introduced to the community during the Malibu City Council meeting last Monday, which was also her first day on the job.
She fills the void left after the departure of former Emergency Services Coordinator Brad Davis — an empty position that made many in the city nervous. Those nerves, the city hopes, are now put to rest.
Dueñas comes to Malibu with over 25 years’ experience, most recently serving as emergency services manager for the City of Oxnard. She has also held disaster preparedness and emergency services positons with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office and the City of El Segundo Fire Department, and administered a crime prevention program for West Hollywood.
The new position incorporates some of Davis’ duties (who left to accept another job), but adds a number of higher level management responsibilities. The upgraded position was approved by city council in January.
City Manager Reva Feldman said in an interview that it was her idea to restructure the position and give it more responsibility and authority. The job reports directly to her.
“I felt after Brad Davis left that it was a great opportunity to revisit how we handle public safety issues,” she said. “It needed to be handled at a higher level. We needed to raise the bar.”
The restructured position includes responsibility for emergency management and preparedness (fires, mudslides, etc.), coordinating with the sheriff and fire departments and other agencies; training, overseeing an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to be constructed in the new Santa Monica College campus, and managing emergency and public safety volunteers, including CERT (Community Emergency Response Team).
When asked what she thought the priorities were, Feldman said, “Everything! There’s a lot of competence with Susan, who has many years of experience. One of the first things she’ll do is to get familiar with our community — who the people are, the sheriff’s captain and the deputies, the Public Safety Commission, etc. But training the staff and all of the other duties are equally important.”
Establishing and maintaining good working relationships with the sheriff’s department is critical to the job’s success, and something that Feldman herself has taken on.
“I do that now,” she said. “We touch base many times every day. Captain Thai now attends city staff meetings, which we never had before. I think it’s very important for the sheriff’s department to be involved.”
As evidence of her commitment, Feldman created a satellite office in City Hall for sheriff’s deputies and Volunteers on Patrol (VOPs) last July, saving them from having to return to the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station in Agoura Hills to write reports, etc.
“My intent is for them to have more of a presence as our community police, and to interact with City Hall visitors and the community as much as possible,” Feldman said.
Another responsibility of the public safety manager will be grant writing.
“I’d love for this position to seek funding for our public safety efforts,” Feldman said. “Homeland Security funding, disaster preparedness — there are all kinds of opportunities at the state and federal levels.”
Dueñas said in an interview that she was attracted to apply for the public safety manager position because it has a “broader scope” of responsibilities than her last position, and would enable her to “expand [her] skill sets.”
She said her years of experience in emergency services have prepared her for this position. In the past, she’s responded to “numerous emergency activations” for fires and landslides.
“I’m well-versed in evacuation procedures, road closures and getting information out to the community,” Dueñas said. She has also attended specialized training in terrorism response tactics, “understanding the dynamics of a catastrophic incident in a populated event,” and crime analysis and prevention strategies.
Dueñas sees her challenges as identifying Malibu’s vulnerabilities in the area of public safety, and being able to deliver what the community expects.
She also sees the first order of business as getting to know everyone.
“The first thing is to get out and meet the key players and partners, because if a significant emergency happens, relationships with those key players are very important,” she said. “I’ll be getting out there talking and meeting with people. I like to sit down and have good introductory meetings, especially with people who have good historical knowledge of what’s happened in the past.”