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Steve Charvat, UW’s first emergency management director, stepping down

Steve Charvat’s arrival at the University of Washington as Director of Emergency Management in 2003 brought with it many firsts. Coming to the UW after serving as deputy emergency director in Washington, D.C. — on the heels of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and anthrax scares — Charvat was asked to build an emergency management program at the UW and put some structure around aspects of emergency planning that hadn’t yet been tied together.

In the years leading up to Charvat’s arrival, the Nisqually Earthquake shook the region in 2001, the Center for Urban Horticulture was targeted in a firebombing attack that same year, and the Educational Outreach Building was destroyed in a 2002 fire on the site along 25th Ave. NE that is now the Northcut Landing retail and office space. These incidents and concerns over emergency preparation and response served as the catalyst for development of a dedicated Emergency Management unit.

The UW soon became a model for emergency preparation, becoming among the first FEMA-designated “disaster-resistant universities” in 2003, and the first university in the Pac-12 and in the state of Washington to be designated “Storm Ready” by the National Weather Service. Charvat also teamed up with the City of Seattle to apply for federal grant funding to equip a state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center, which opened in Spring 2011. The previous EOC was in a small room mostly used for yoga classes in the dilapidated Bryant Building, which has since been demolished.

After nearly two decades, Charvat is stepping down from his role as director of emergency management to pursue other opportunities.

“I feel like I’ve put my mark on the program in laying the foundational elements so that the next generation who lead the program have the tools, knowledge and information available to take it to the next level,” Charvat said. “Each drill, home football game, exercise, training, campus incident, storm response, crisis and disaster over the past 20 years tested our plans, challenged our assumptions and provided a number of lessons learned for future improvement.”

Emergency management is not easily or immediately recognizable to many and, through planning and a little luck, may be called upon in crisis infrequently — the past three years notwithstanding. But, Charvat said, people and organizations have immediate needs when a major threat or disaster happens. The UW’s Emergency Management unit was established to provide a one-stop spot for planning for disasters and coordinated damage assessment, communications, assistance and recovery. With a foundation two decades in the making, the next era of emergency management at the UW is around the corner.

“The UW is a wonderful place to work and I’ve always been very proud of the partnerships and the expertise within the University dedicated to protecting our mission of teaching, research and public service,” Charvat said. “I’ve seen the program grow, and I am confident that the program will continue to meet the challenges of tomorrow by building on the successes of the past.”

A search for Charvat’s successor will get underway in winter quarter.