“You by no means know if you come to work should you’re going dwelling right this moment’: Rita Smith on her life in emergency administration | Native Information

By | July 2, 2022
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Rita Smith has made her life’s work serving to communities put together for and reply to emergencies.

That dedication, and a love for Auburn soccer, introduced her to Lee County, first as an emergency supervisor and now as director of Lee County Emergency Administration Company.

A few weeks in the past, she picked up one other title: first vp of the Alabama Affiliation of Emergency Managers, which represents Alabama’s emergency managers in all 67 counties.

“It isn’t only a title; it is an enormous honor, and I am very excited in regards to the alternative to serve and assist others,” Smith mentioned. “It has type of been a profession purpose to serve at this stage.”

On June 16 on the 2022 Alabama Catastrophe Preparedness Convention in Tuscaloosa, Smith was elected to the place earlier this month on the annual Alabama Catastrophe Preparedness Convention in Tuscaloosa.

The brand new position will not change her present job.

“Lee County is my precedence – at all times has been and can proceed to be,” Smith mentioned.

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As the primary vp, Smith will assist set objectives for the affiliation, fulfill the wants of the counties and work on objects. Smith mentioned she’s going to develop into its president subsequent 12 months.

She mentioned she was on the committee and just lately helped get Home Invoice 3 handed, which acknowledges emergency managers as being members of the general public security neighborhood.

“The primary purpose for me is to have the ability to serve the opposite counties and different affiliation members to encourage them to be as concerned as attainable with our affiliation to proceed to professionalize emergency administration,” Smith mentioned.

Smith mentioned she additionally desires to assist voices in smaller counties be heard and encourage a brand new technology of emergency managers.

“Rita is a confirmed chief, poised and keen to make an incredible influence on the Affiliation,” mentioned Sonny Brasfield, govt director of the Alabama Affiliation of Emergency Managers, in a launch. “She has confirmed her real need and sense of duty to guard residents in her dwelling county and throughout the state.”

Auburn fan

Smith mentioned the profession subject of emergency administration discovered her.

Round 2003, she bought her first EMA place in Monroe County as an administrative assistant, she mentioned.

She turned an emergency supervisor in 2004. That 12 months, Hurricane Ivan struck the Gulf Coast after which hit Monroe County inland as a Class 3.

“It took energy and providers out for 2 weeks in that county,” Smith mentioned. “I had simply been to a hurricane response class previous to it. I discovered some textbook issues that you simply do, that are nothing like what you actually do.”

When coping with a catastrophe, Smith mentioned, you need to be considering forward and planning what the following steps might be 12 hours out to 72 hours out. Additionally, it is vital to appreciate that every catastrophe is totally different.

After Ivan, the Gulf Coast was bombarded by Hurricane Dennis in July 2005, Katrina in August 2005 and Rita in September 2005.

Along with responding to those hurricanes, Smith remembers that it emerges a number of occasions to assist different counties and different companies with their.

In the meantime, Smith and her husband David have been having fun with attending Auburn soccer video games and wishing they lived nearer to the Plains.

In 2008, Smith talked about in a gathering that she could be enthusiastic about coming to Lee County if there was ever a gap.

A number of weeks later, she bought a job there and has been in Lee County ever since.

Smith turned the interim director in Lee County in February of 2020, after the Lee County Fee terminated director Kathy Carson for not following procurement guidelines when buying an ATV.

Smith was formally named the director in March of 2021 after receiving an unanimous vote of approval from county commissioners, who praised her management over the earlier two years within the aftermath of the Beauregard tornadoes.

Beauregard tornadoes

In 2019, when catastrophe struck Beauregard within the type of an EF-4 twister that killed 23 folks, Smith was serving as Carson’s deputy, and he or she took motion because the county’s lead public info officer.

Smith was in control of speaking with about 450 media retailers, together with “Good Morning America” ​​and retailers all over the world.

She mentioned she’d continuously obtain calls and messages from media, even when she’d go dwelling simply to bathe or relaxation.

“It is across the clock as a result of individuals are in so many various time zones,” she mentioned.

Smith carried out each day briefings every single day and coordinated visits from President Donald Trump, Gov. Kay Ivey and different political leaders and dignitaries.

“You learn to adapt and overcome,” Smith mentioned, “and also you be taught that sleep, you are not getting any of that.”

Smith started speaking with media about 4 or 5 hours after the twister touched down, and he or she mentioned it was inconceivable to not get emotional.

Search and rescue was led by Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones, whom Smith mentioned is the “most superior sheriff ever,” and cleanup was dealt with by Lee County engineer Justin Hardee, whom Smith described as “improbable and really expert.”

She mentioned these three labored carefully collectively whereas responding to this catastrophe.


When unhealthy climate has a chance of coming by way of the realm, Smith and her workforce are ready to watch it day and evening. On the EMA workplace, Smith has a hammock, blankets, pillows and additional sneakers.

EMA will quickly be shifting into a brand new constructing with showers and a full kitchen.

“You by no means know if you come to work should you’re going dwelling right this moment or in a few days,” she mentioned.

Apart from weather-related emergencies, Smith and her workforce additionally reply to fires, automotive accidents, search and rescues and extra.

Smith particularly remembers two lacking baby operations by which each youngsters have been discovered protected and returned dwelling to their households.

In Monroe County in 2004, an 18-month-old boy fell right into a dry effectively on Halloween evening, and after 18 hours, by way of the work of search and rescue groups, he was situated and rescued.

In Lee County in 2020, responders have been notified that 4-year-old Vadie Sides was lacking. After 49 hours, she was discovered protected within the woods close to her dwelling and returned to her household.

Whereas Smith has responded to loads of ncies away from dwelling, she says the feelings are higher if you’re serving to residents you reside and work with on a regular basis.

“It is a complete lot totally different when it is dwelling,” she mentioned. “When it is at dwelling, you understand the responders which might be on the scene and also you go down within the space to do nationwide media interviews with some younger girls who you understand, good and effectively, have youngsters who’ve died. They’re there and also you’re making an attempt to get them away from an space the place they’ll deliver physique baggage throughout.

“You see first responders that you simply’re in conferences with and also you’re in coaching with and so they’re coated in grime, mud and blood. It is a complete lot totally different than if you go assist somebody someplace else.”


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