Kotek names Erin McMahon as new head of Oregon Department of Emergency Management

The prior director, Andrew Phelps, was one of several agency heads who left after Kotek’s election

By: - August 18, 2023 4:42 pm

Gov. Tina Kotek appointed retired Army Brig. Gen. Erin McMahon as the new head of the Oregon Department of Emergency Management. (Governor’s Office)

This article was updated at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 21 with salary information.

Gov. Tina Kotek on Friday appointed a retired Army officer to lead the Oregon Department of Emergency Management and oversee the state’s response to disasters ranging from wildfires to pandemics to the homelessness crisis. 

Erin McMahon, a retired Army brigadier general who most recently worked as a senior adviser at the Virginia-based McChrystal Group, needs to be confirmed by the state Senate when it meets in September. 

“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 to develop a strategic plan for emergency management that will help our communities before, during and after disaster,” McMahon said in a statement. “I am honored to serve Oregonians in times of crisis and beyond.”

McMahon previously served as principal deputy general counsel for the U.S. National Guard Bureau, where she supervised a team of 60 attorneys and advised top Department of Defense leaders on critical issues, including Oregon’s 2021 wildfires. While that season wasn’t as destructive as the 2020 fires that burned more than a million acres, the state had more than 1,000 fires that burned close to 520,000 acres in 2021. 

“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,” Kotek said in a statement. “Erin McMahon brings over 20 years of experience leading teams in response to large-scale emergencies at the state and national level. I am confident in her ability to support Oregonians across the state and look forward to seeing her positive impact and leadership at ODEM.”

McMahon, the first woman to serve in her role with the National Guard, also led programs to combat military sexual assault. 

A spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Emergency Management deferred to the governor’s office on McMahon’s salary, and a Kotek spokeswoman did not immediately respond Friday afternoon. On Monday evening, a Kotek spokeswoman confirmed that McMahon will receive a monthly salary of $14,994, or close to $180,000 a year.

Andrew Phelps, the department’s prior director, was one of several agency heads who stepped down after Kotek’s election last November. He began work in 2015 at what was then the Office of Emergency Management and led as the office became a standalone agency and navigated the COVID pandemic and 2020 Labor Day fires, the two most expensive and wide-reaching emergencies in Oregon history.

Matt Garrett, the former director of the Oregon Department of Transportation, has served as interim director for the past several months. He served as Brown’s principal adviser on 2020 wildfire recovery and coordinated the state’s support for last year’s World Athletic Championships in Eugene after retiring from the transportation department in 2019. 

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Julia Shumway
Julia Shumway

Julia Shumway is the Capital Chronicle's deputy editor and lead political reporter. Before joining the Capital Chronicle in 2021, she was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix and reported on local and state government and politics in Iowa, Nebraska and Bend. An award-winning journalist, Julia also serves as president of the Oregon Legislative Correspondents Association, or Capitol press corps.

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