Get to know Debbie Smith, emergency management coordinator

By Madeline Otten

When a disaster hits, emergency management coordinator Debbie Smith is two steps ahead of the game and is ready for what’s coming.

The emergency management coordinator is in charge of preparing for, responding to and recovering from both natural and human-caused emergencies. To accomplish this, Smith coordinates emergency responses within the community.

Smith became emergency management coordinator 15 months ago, but started working for the county in 2016. She landed her first job with Fluvanna in the information technology department and earned her degree in IT from Piedmont Virginia Community College.

But Smith also has experience in fire and emergency medical services (EMS) that stretches back 20 years.

“A challenging aspect of this role is community preparedness,” said Smith. “We all tend to have the belief that it will not happen to us and we all tend to not get prepared before a disaster, winter storms or hurricanes we see coming.”

When remnants of Hurricane Florence were predicted to trek through Fluvanna, Smith and her team held phone conferences to prepare for the impact.

“We wanted to be smart with what was projected, so county-wise, we were ready,” said Smith.

While natural disasters seem more likely to happen, Smith also has to deal with human-caused emergencies. Human-caused emergencies can include material spills, fire, groundwater contamination, transportation accidents, structure failures, explosions, and acts of terrorism. Smith wants the community to be self-sufficient for 72 hours after disaster strikes.

Smith encourages Fluvanna County residents to use Everbridge, an emergency notification system. Those who sign up receive notifications of closings and alerts within the area via voice communication or text. Community members are asked to confirm that the message was received, and if not, the system continues through the list of communication methods registered by the participant.

Smith’s day-to-day responsibilities include attending meetings, working on plans, and coordinating with other departments.

“We are about to begin tabletop exercises leading toward a full-scale exercise testing our emergency operations plan,” said Smith. “We will be making changes where needed. That is a fun, exciting aspect of the job.”

Smith wants to continue to improve disaster preparedness in Fluvanna through citizen involvement. Her goals include exercising and improving the emergency operations plans and providing a shelter for animals in disaster.

Smith said she is fascinated by science. She enjoys learning from past disasters, including what went wrong and what went right. She lives in Louisa County and enjoys taking care of her farm and animals. She breeds and shows miniature horses and has a couple of dogs with her at home.

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