Emergency Services Coordinator resigns after a successful time in Malibu

Sarah Kaplan helped navigate the City of Malibu through the COVID-19, bolstered disaster preparedness programs

The City of Malibu will bid farewell to Emergency Services Coordinator Sarah Kaplan after she announced her resignation during the Public Safety Commission meeting on Jan. 4. 

Kaplan will end her tenure with the city after helping the city navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic and helping the city build emergency preparedness programs in the aftermath of the Woolsey Fire.

Her work helped strengthen the relationship between the city and the city’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). Kaplan is credited with helping CERT receive funding and support from the city over her three years with the public safety department.

In her address to the Public Safety Commission, she said that she is working with CERT to ensure that her work will continue to build on the future of emergency preparedness in Malibu.

“I am working with Richard Garvey [CERT team leader] to ensure that long-term operations for the CERT team and long time planning carry forward,” Kaplan said. “We have some really cool things in the works and we’re really excited to keep them going.”

Kaplan began working with the city in October 2019, less than a year after the Woolsey Fire, and just months before the full spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. She described her tenure as a really challenging yet engaging experience. 

During this period, her department took on a battle of two fronts as the city continued to build on its natural disaster preparedness programs and monitoring fire threats during fire season, but also worked in conjunction with CERT to provide the city with resources and testing during the pandemic shutdown. 

Kaplan recalls that when she began working for the city, the effects of the fire were still very much felt. 

“It was very intense. Staff and residents had just come off a year of rebuilding and dealing with the after-effects of the fire, so people’s emotions and responses were running really high,” Kaplan said. “I was definitely jumping into the deep end with both feet.” 

She praised her staff for being so supportive and professional during her first couple of months, and said that the intensity of that time and the skills she learned in such a short time proved to be valuable a couple months later when the pandemic created a whole new set of challenges.

She said her colleague Susan Dueñas, Malibu’s current public safety director, was instrumental in the city’s response to the pandemic and said she was thankful that the staff was well prepared for any emergency situation.

“The pandemic was different kind of intense, more of a slow intense,” Kaplan said. “When it really walloped us in March of 2020, she [Dueñas] had plans in place. Next, we rolled right into having a testing site at City Hall, so it was again a whole new set of learning for me,” 

As the department navigated through the pandemic, Kaplan and the staff did not lose focus on Malibu’s need for natural disaster preparedness.

Kaplan led in organizing the 2020, 2021, and 2022 September Disaster Preparedness Month activities and workshops as well as organizing and operating the 2021 and 2022 Safety Expos in partnership with CERT. She also helped host and teach CERT classes throughout the pandemic.

She said her work is an extension of her passion for helping others.

“Those are the things I really like to do because you get to go out and talk to people and interact with them one on one and really help people get prepared” Kaplan said. “That’s what I love about emergency management and working in local government because we’re there to help and make things better for people,”

CERT team leader Richard Garvey was a colleague of Kaplan’s over her time with Malibu and praised her work ethic and passion to help others. He said her involvement with CERT has been instrumental in keeping CERT together. He said she deserves so much praise for her work for the city and its residents.

“Unfortunately people didn’t see a lot of the tons of behind the scenes work Sarah did, whether purchasing things, prepping, planning drills, anything like that,” Garvey said.

Garvey said he was impressed by her passion for helping others during her service for the community during the pandemic. She proudly took on the challenge of helping operate the COVID testing site at City Hall.

Emergency Services Coordinator Sarah Kaplan poses with Fire Safety Liaison Brad Yocum at City Hall. Photo by Emmanuel Luissi/TMT.

“Sarah was there from morning to night,” Garvey said. “She was the first person there and the last to leave … Sarah was great.” 

He recalled an experience of working with Kaplan where he said he will remember as a testament to her character. 

Garvey said early on in the pandemic, he was helping administer nose swabs at the test site, and worked a long, grueling shift all without having eaten throughout the day. 

After completing the day’s work, he dreaded having to clean up and head home before having his first meal of the day. He said he was surprised to be served a meal that Kaplan had gotten for him, and appreciated the fact that she recognized he had worked hard and was there to help support her colleague. 

“She put a lot of that effort into everything she did,” Garvey said. “She watched out for the team, did background work to make sure everyone was taken care of, everyone performed safely and never got in over their head.”

He said she has been a great partner in developing new projects that he hopes will be unveiled soon, such as their mobile satellite communication uplink that could supply wi-fi and internet connection to residents in the case of an emergency.

He said her legacy will be that she helped strengthen the relationship between the city and CERT and she ensured the city further supported emergency preparedness in the city.

Garvey said in her departure, he believes CERT will continue to have a fruitful relationship with the city and expects to continue work with public safety department members such as Dueñas and Malibu City Fire Safety Liaisons Gabe Etcheverry and Brad Yocum, among others.

Kaplan believes the future for CERT and emergency preparedness in Malibu is bright and celebrated CERT for its role in keeping the city prepared and safe.

“Whatever I helped accomplish with the CERT team, even if it’s just been supporting them to the best of my ability I’m happy to have that as my legacy,” Kaplan said. “I had a strong response from the CERT team that was, ‘How can I help, what do you need me for?’ I want to help the community and I want to make sure they get the credit for that. I want to thank them for being the awesome people that they are.”

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