Earthquakes, floods, power outages, heat waves, and storms are among the disasters that require a coordinated and rapid response from city officials.
Police, fire, and public works personnel need to be able to coordinate their response and get accurate information to the public quickly.
That’s where Stephen Foster comes in.
As Tustin’s new emergency operations coordinator, Foster’s job is to ensure officials with police, fire, public works, and other departments can swiftly and seamlessly spring into action during disasters occurring in real time.
“My role is making sure it’s maintained and things are moving forward and if there are gaps that are there, that we fill those gaps,” Foster said. “Could be a communication gap or a piece of equipment not being there.”
During an emergency, officials gather in the city’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC), a centralized briefing room or hub equipped with technology to help the city run support operations during a catastrophic event. Foster is responsible for establishing and maintaining the EOC.
“It’s an operation and coordination center,” Foster said. “It’s just a single cell where you are making sure that the decisions that are being made are being put out and implemented. When things are active, I support the command team because of my knowledge and experience.
The current EOC is in the Tustin Police Department; however, a new center is being built at the city’s maintenance yard, Foster said.
One of Foster’s first tasks was to coordinate and oversee a large-scale coronavirus vaccination event at the Columbus Tustin Recreation Center in April. More than 300 people were vaccinated that day, receiving protection against the deadly COVID-19 virus.
Foster also plans to strengthen the city’s Community Emergency Response Team, known commonly as CERT, and he wants to help re-establish the Tustin Police Department’s Citizen’s Academy.
Along with his position with the city, Foster is also an Army reservist.
There are a lot of similarities between his position with the city and his job as a civil affairs staff sergeant with the Army Reserves, Foster said.
After the devastating Nepal earthquake in April 2015, Foster and a colleague traveled on their own to the South Asian country to take part in a home build and do research on emergency operations. The trip gave him a feel for emergency operations at the international level.
While in active duty in 2005, Foster was deployed to Iraq, where he participated in multiple combat patrols to make sure “nothing was going crazy or people were doing bad things.”
After active duty, Foster returned to college, earned a degree and did a two-year internship with the San Diego County Office of Emergency Services.
Foster then spent five years as emergency planning coordinator for the city of San Clemente, where much of the focus was on being prepared for potential disasters connected to the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
“If a nuclear meltdown occurred, the whole city would have to be evacuated,” he said.
With San Clemente being a coastal town, preparing for tsunamis was also part of Foster’s role in that city.
When he applied for the position of emergency operations coordinator for Tustin, Foster knew he would be replacing the late Joe Meyers, whom he worked with often.
Meyer, 61, died from COVID-19 on Jan. 24, 2021, after battling the virus for nearly a month.
In many cities, emergency management falls under the purview of the public safety department. In Tustin, Foster’s duties fall under the jurisdiction of the police department. Though he is not a sworn officer, having emergency management as a subunit of the police department makes sense, Foster said.
“Public safety, I feel, is a more conducive environment for emergency management,” he said. “Their mindsets are already geared for that.”
Foster’s transition from San Clemente to Tustin couldn’t be going more smoothly, said Lt. Ryan Coe, who oversees emergency management for the Tustin Police Department and has been “blown away” by Foster’s “depth of knowledge and experience.”
“The City of Tustin is now leaps and bounds beyond anything we have ever had in the world of Emergency Management,” Coe said. “It feels like Stephen has been here for years.”