The Board of Supervisors Tuesday tentatively approved an ordinance clarifying lines of succession and the order of decision-making in the event of a natural or manmade disaster in Riverside County.

The first reading of Ordinance No. 533 occurred as part of the board’s policy agenda, and supervisors voted 5-0 to set the matter for a final public hearing in the next four weeks.

The ordinance, which would replace the county’s existing framework, designates which officials have the authority to declare local emergencies when the board is not in session and the process of managing resources and delegating tasks when disasters strike.

“The purpose of Ordinance No. 533 is to provide for the coordination of disaster mitigation, preparation, response and recovery activities for the protection of persons and property within the county,” according to an Executive Office statement. “The … ordinance will improve flexibility and capacity for accomplishing these objectives.”

The measure notes that the county’s Emergency Management Organization is vital when there’s an emergency proclamation by the governor, a “state of war emergency,” or a local state of emergency specifically affecting Riverside County.

The ordinance would further reaffirm that the county’s chief executive officer, currently George Johnson, doubles as the director of emergency services. He could declare an emergency and order the Emergency Management Department to activate the county’s Emergency Operations Center. In his absence, there is a line of succession spelled out in the ordinance, identifying other officials qualified to issue an emergency declaration, starting with the chief operating officer and ending with the EMD director.

The declaring authority would have the latitude to “use all county resources for the preservation of life and property … resolve questions of authority and responsibility … obtain vital supplies, equipment and resources needed … (and) delegate elected and appointed officials of the county such duties as he or she deems necessary” to take action for residents’ benefit, according to the proposal.

A “disaster council” would be established under the ordinance, which lists a dozen county officials who would be requested to take part, in addition to “representatives of government, military, public safety, civic, business, labor, veterans, professional, educational, faith-based, access and functional needs or other organizations having an official emergency responsibility, as may be recommended by the council.”

The body would be convened semiannually — or in times of crisis — advising the board on plans, agreements and resolutions that might be needed for public health and protection, according to the ordinance.

Lastly, it acknowledges that the city of Indio would be the “alternate seat of government” for the county if conditions in Riverside were to warrant a change.

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