Arkansas Department of Public Safety (ADPS)

The Arkansas Division of Emergency Management (ADEM), which became part of the Arkansas Department of Public Safety in 2019, is the state government’s equivalent of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). ADEM is responsible for disaster preparedness and for responding to natural and manmade disasters throughout the state.

Act 321 of 1953 established the State Civil Defense Agency, then located in an office at the Arkansas State Capitol. The act noted the “existing and increasing possibility of the occurrence of disasters of unprecedented size and destructiveness resulting from enemy attack” and defined the agency’s mission as “to provide for the common defense and to protect the public peace, health, and safety.” Under the act, the State Civil Defense Agency was responsible for all emergency functions for which the military was not primarily responsible. The agency was attached to the Arkansas National Guard and moved to Camp Joseph T. Robinson in North Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1955 and then moved to Conway (Faulkner County) two years later so it would be reasonably distant from Little Rock (Pulaski County) in the case of a nuclear attack. In 1959, the agency’s name was changed to the Executive Office of Civil Defense and Disaster Relief, and its scope was broadened to encompass more than just civil defense, including the creation of local organizations for civil defense in the political divisions of the state.

The agency established its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in Conway in 1965; this was an 8,500-square-foot underground center designed for use by the governor and staff in the event of an emergency. Act 38 of 1971 reorganized state government into thirteen major departments, and the Executive Office of Civil Defense and Disaster Relief was placed under the Department of Planning. Problems with the definition of the agency’s goals, however, resulted in Act 511 of 1973 renaming it the Office of Emergency Services and placing it under the Department of Public Safety. The act also created the Emergency Services Advisory Council, consisting of the directors of several other governmental departments as well gubernatorial appointees. In 1981, it was made an independent state agency, and Act 646 was amended in 1999 to give the agency full departmental status as ADEM, which consisted of the following divisions: Director’s Office, Disaster Management, Information Technology, Administration, and Preparedness. Governor Mike Huckabee ordered that ADEM be moved to a more centralized location, and construction on a new EOC began in North Little Rock on the campus of Camp Robinson in 2005. By 2007, it was operational.

ADEM has handled a number of emergencies in its various incarnations, including tornadoes, floods, and other natural disasters. In 2005, ADEM oversaw the temporary settlement of more than 70,000 evacuees from the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Three years later, ADEM conducted much the same operation, though on a smaller scale, as Hurricane Gustav bore down on the Gulf Coast, along with the subsequent flooding and storms as the hurricane moved north through Louisiana and into Arkansas.

Created by the Transformation and Efficiencies Act of 2019 (Act 910), the Arkansas Department of Public Safety is an umbrella agency that consolidates numerous public safety–related state agencies, commissions, and boards under one cabinet-level department. These agencies include the Arkansas Division of Emergency Management and the Division of Arkansas State Police (both formerly known as departments rather than divisions), as well as the Arkansas State Crime Lab, Arkansas Crime Information Center, Arkansas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training, Law Enforcement Support Office, Crime Victims Reparations Board, Fire Protection Services Board, Homeland Security Advisory Group, Arkansas 911 Board, State Emergency Response Commission, and Fire Prevention Commission.

For additional information:

Arkansas Department of Public Safety. https://portal.arkansas.gov/agency/department-of-public-safety/ (accessed November 11, 2019).

Arkansas Division of Emergency Management. https://www.adem.arkansas.gov/ (accessed November 11, 2019).

Brown, Amyjo. “Lessons of Katrina a Help with Gustav.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 7, 2008, pp. 1A, 16A.

Upshaw, Amy, and Jake Bleed. “Huckabee Puts Disaster Agency in New Hands.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 1, 2006, p. 1B, 7B.

Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas

Last Updated: 11/11/2019

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