Now retired Army Brig. Gen. Erin McMahon pictured in 2021.

Now retired Army Brig. Gen. Erin McMahon pictured in 2021. (National Guard Bureau)

The Oregon Senate on Friday confirmed retired Army Brig. Gen. Erin McMahon as director of the Oregon Department of Emergency Management, the lead state agency on major disasters such as wildfires, earthquakes and floods.

McMahon, 50, will be paid $179,928 annually.

Gov. Tina Kotek said McMahon first came to her attention as the federal liaison during the 2021 Oregon wildfire season, when more than 1,000 fires burned at least 518,303 acres across the state during the coronavirus pandemic.

Kotek said the ability to deal with overlapping crises was an emerging demand of the job as health emergencies and natural calamities increasingly occur simultaneously.

“As our state responds to wildfires, extreme weather events and other rapidly changing emergencies, the person leading the Oregon Department of Emergency Management must be able to anticipate and respond to a broad range of crises that Oregon will inevitably encounter,” the governor said.

Prior to 2022, ODEM was part of a three-agency group that included Oregon Emergency Management, the Oregon State Police and the Oregon Military Department (National Guard).

Several years of increased wildfire threats culminated in the disastrous Labor Day fire storms — 15 large fires that burned more than 1 million acres, destroyed 5,000 homes and killed nine people.

The Legislature acted to give Oregon Emergency Management a clear goal as the leading source of forecasting, threat analysis, response, logistics, evacuation and damage assessment.

ODEM was named a standalone state department reporting directly to the governor and equal status to other departments in the cabinet.

McMahon will oversee a department that has 130 employees and a budget of $1.26 billion — the money primarily coming for federal disaster relief funds. The state pays $27 million of the budget.

Kotek’s office said McMahon has more than 20 years of experience with a wide range of individuals, agencies and military commands in all 50 states, American territories and the District of Columbia that are drawn on at times of major emergencies.

“After over 15 years of supporting emergency management operations at the national level — including during the COVID-19 health emergency and dozens of climate-related catastrophes — I will capitalize on my prior work with FEMA and other federal partners,” McMahon said in a statement.

McMahon has a law degree from Lewis & Clark Northwestern School of Law in Oregon. She took on an expanded role in the federal investigations of rioters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

At the time McMahon left military service, she was deputy general counsel for the chief of the National Guard Bureau.

While on active duty with the Army, McMahon was program director for a Pentagon internal effort to reduce incidents of sexual assault.

McMahon retired in August 2022 and took a position as a senior adviser to the McChrystal Group in Virginia, a management consulting firm created by former Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Once the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, McChrystal was forced to step down from the job following critical comments about former President Barack Obama and his top aides by McChrystal and his staff.

A native of Texas, McMahon’s father was an Air Force pilot who flew A-10 Thunderbolt II ground attack aircraft, nicknamed “the Warthog.”

McMahon received a bachelor’s degree at the University of Arizona. She received a certificate as a Master of Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College, was a foreign policy fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2018-2019, and a national strategic studies fellow in fall 2021 at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.

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Gary Warner covers the Pacific Northwest for Stars and Stripes. He’s reported from East Germany, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Britain, France and across the U.S. He has a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.

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