Albert Ashwood, director of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, is retiring after 30 years of working with the department, Barbara Hoberock writes for Tulsa World. The state has weathered a total of 188 federal disaster declarations, and Ashwood served as the director for 75 percent of them.
What we can learn from Ashwood’s experience
Ashwood’s advice for other emergency managers? “Don’t worry about the people above you,” he said. “Worry about the people below that need help.”
This seasoned emergency management director has walked with Oklahoma officials and citizens through “terrorist acts, tornadoes, ice storms, wildfires, and floods,” Hoberock reports. He even assisted in organizing a debris management plan after the Sept. 11 attack. Of all the disasters he’s worked through, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing remains most vivid in his memory. His sister-in-law died with 167 others in the explosion, and Ashwood arrived at the scene of the attack 25 minutes after it happened.
Ashwood also dealt with some stranger crises. For example, when the Cimarron River began eroding, and conservationalists added tires to stop the banks from eroding, rats flocked to the tires. Then, people living in homes in the area reported rat infestations, Hoberock writes. Ashwood said that when his television interview ran, “it was edited down to where my face was there, and the only thing I said was ‘the river is going to do what the river is going to do,'” he said. “My entire family got a big kick out of that.”
Ashwood’s retirement plans
After he retires on August 31, Oklahoma’s former emergency managment director plans to live a quieter life enjoying his 160-acre property in Chandler. “When we have the first disaster after I am retired, and no one wants to know my opinion, it might be a little difficult,” Ashwood said. “But I think I will get over it.”
Oklahoma’s new emergency management director
Moving forward, the state of Oklahoma will not be left without an experienced leader directing emergency response’s to disasters. Governor Mary Fallin has named Michelann Ooten the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management’s new director. Ooten has already served as the department’s deputy director for 17 years.