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Ellis County emergency management coordinator Samantha Pickett and KBEC 1390AM/99.1FM owner Jim Phillips while taping the Hour of Hope, which airs at 2 p.m. Saturdays.

The Ellis County Emergency Management Office is hosting its annual Emergency Management Fair from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, at the Midlothian ISD Multipurpose Stadium, 1800 S. 14th St.

This is a free event and one which the community-at-large is encouraged to attend.

“If you want to know how you’re protected, this is a great way to learn more,” said Samantha Pickett, the county’s emergency management coordinator.

The county’s Emergency Management Office serves to coordinate efforts between local and area fire and police departments in the event an incident requires more than a local response, as would be involved in the case of a tornado, large fire or train derailment, as examples. Pickett works alongside Ralph Mulvaney, the county’s emergency planner, with County Judge Todd Little serving as the office’s overall director.

Where challenges can occur is in the event of back-to-back emergencies, Pickett shared during a recent taping of the Hour of Hope for KBEC 1390AM/99.1FM. She noted how, the previous week alone, first responders were called out to a possible hazmat incident before being dispatched to another community for an infrastructure issue before moving over to a 90-plus acre wildfire.

Ellis County has 17 jurisdictions in its emergency management network, with only four cities – Ennis, Midlothian, Red Oak and Waxahachie – having an emergency management coordinator on staff. In other jurisdictions, that role is taken on by the mayor, Pickett said.

Resources to handle emergencies begin at the local level and, if a larger response is needed, are drawn from the area on up through sharing agreements with members of the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

Pickett joined the county office in April and has found her work most rewarding with its human element and working face to face with people. She earned her bachelor’s degree in emergency administration and planning from the University of North Texas and holds “lots of certifications” due to the nature of her job.

She had originally intended to become an accountant but, after being with her family in the Philippines during that country’s 2014 typhoon, saw firsthand how a disaster can impact people’s lives – and how important emergency management is.

She returned home to Denton, where she became a volunteer with that city’s Action Team – and learned how she could turn her calling to serve into a career.

“I was told, ‘You know you can get a degree in this’ and it was ‘bye, bye, accounting’ then,” she said. Obtaining a degree was “absolutely worthwhile” for Pickett, who said it “taught me all the fundamentals of emergency responses” and also gave her the opportunity to intern with the city of Denton. She would later be involved with refugee relocations during Hurricane Harvey to a city of Dallas facility.

“We created a city without walls for 5,000 people,” she said. “You want to say, ‘Welcome to Dallas’ but that’s not the right thing to say. You say, ‘I’m sorry and I’m here to help you.’ They were so grateful.”

She acknowledges that while her studies and degree helped prepare her for her job, learning to deal with its emotions has been something that’s been learned along the way and through experience. One aspect of humanity that has impressed itself upon her is that of resilience, she said, noting, “You’d be shocked by how strong people are.”

Pickett encourages people across Ellis County to attend the upcoming Emergency Management Fair, which is in Midlothian this year as part of a rotation of sites so as to better spread the information.

“It’s free of charge and food and water will be provided,” she said. “There’s also a lot of swag to be had and drawings (people do not have to be present to win) for different items. We’ll have different agencies and organizations there and all of them will discuss their operations. You can also learn about volunteer opportunities. We’ll have face painting and balloons for the children.”

Already signed up to be in attendance are representatives from multiple law enforcement, fire and first responding agencies, along with Univar, H-E-B, United Way of West Ellis County, Salvation Army, National Weather Service and more.

“It’s a fun way to learn how to protect yourself as well as your pets and livestock,” she said, noting that information that will be shared includes what to have on hand as an emergency kit in the event of a disaster.

“This is an easy way to learn better how to be prepared and also to learn about the system that’s in place in the event of an emergency,” Pickett said.

To keep up with the Ellis County Emergency Management Office, search for Ellis County Emergency Management on Facebook and Twitter. There, the office posts updates and news items that range from weather reports to road closures and safety tips. People can also visit the website at http://www.co.ellis.tx.us/94/Emergency-Management or call 972-825-5199 for more information.

To sign up for emergency alerts, visit the county’s website at http://www.co.ellis.tx.us/ and scroll down the front page to a lower left red icon that reads “Emergency Notification System.” Click on it and follow the instructions to set up an account.

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