WAXAHACHIE

Ellis County has welcomed a new coordinator this week to brave through the storm of emergency management.

The county’s previous emergency management coordinator, Stephanie Parker, served the county for three years until she passed away from leukemia in 2018. Fire Marshal Tim Birdwell had served in the role as emergency management coordinator since then, but as Ellis County Judge Todd Little pointed out, Birdwell has more than enough on his plate as the fire marshal.

“Tim’s done a great job,” Little remarked. “He did a lot more than what was expected of him to do.”

Earlier this year, Little and his office looked at approximately 20 candidates over a 30-day period to find an adequate replacement for the position. After interviewing five finalists, Ellis County found their new emergency management coordinator in specialist Samantha Pickett, who was formally introduced to the commissioners’ court Tuesday at the Historic Courthouse.

As an emergency management coordinator, Pickett is responsible for coordinating and supervising security operations, as well as response planning for natural and man-made emergencies and disasters. A 2016 graduate from the University of North Texas, Pickett is a former emergency management intern for the City of Denton and Emergency Preparedness Specialist for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

Pickett said she tackled a variety of projects while she was with NCTCG, including public safety training and emergency response planning.

“My background was training and exercise for specialty teams – SWAT, hazmat, explosive ordinance disposal,” Pickett explained. “I kind of had my hands in an array of projects.”

Although Pickett originally intended to major in accounting, a trip to the Philippines in November 2013 changed her mind. That was when one of the deadliest typhoons ever recorded, Super Typhoon Yolanda, struck the islands, killing at least 6,300 people and costing over four billion dollars in damages.

“It wiped out a couple of islands on the Philippines,” she recalled. “People were left without food and water for two weeks. When I was there, we ended up giving food and water from our hotel, helping out a little bit before we headed back home. They don’t have insurance, so when it gets wiped out, it gets wiped out. That’s their life savings. It was devastating.”

When she was told she could major in emergency management, she hopped on the chance and applied for any volunteer opportunity she could get. Since then, she’s volunteered for the American Red Cross, worked with CareNow and became certified through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“I could make an impact,” she expressed.

Her first involvement with the Ellis County came in September last year, where up to 10 inches of rainfall flooded the county and cost several thousands of dollars in damages. Pickett stated she was there on behalf of NCTCG, knocking from door-to-door to help with rapid damage assessment.

“I kind of got my feet wet in Ellis County – literally,” she remarked.

Pickett explained that her first priorities as emergency management coordinator are to be proactive in engaging citizens on emergency preparedness, as well as educate the public on what to do during severe weather and outdoor warnings.

“When you’re in the middle of a flood, you do things totally different than if you haven’t been affected by that flood yet,” Little remarked. “Our goal is to get in front of the contingencies.

Little stated he’s excited for Pickett to join the county and to see how her experience and contacts with NCOG is going to impact the county.

“Samantha is going to be best equipped to pull off what we need as it relates to protecting the property and the people of Ellis County,” Little elaborated. “She’s kind of the new blood that’s going to take us into the future as a growing population.”