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“Truth of the matter is, I’ve been very blessed. Few people get a job that can impact people’s lives in such a positive way.”

- OEM Director Albert Ashwood

“COW” or “cell on wheels” was of great assistance in the aftermath of the bombing. “Ironically, one thing that helped the situation was another bomb scare that day; it caused more people to evacuate the area and we could work better with emergency responders. There were also some tornado warnings in the afternoon,” he says. In the midst of shambles, Ashwood had one

extra hope. His sister-in-law, Susan Ferrell, worked at the Alfred P. Murrah building; Ashwood hoped she would be found—alive. “Working hard during those weeks was the easy part. Going home to my family knowing Susan did not make it was very hard,” Ashwood says. To the Ashwoods, each annual Oklahoma City

Memorial Service and Marathon marks another year of coping with a great loss. “It’s very emotional every year. There’s no way remembering that day is uplifting, but participat- ing in the marathon is a celebration of life,” Ashwood says of the annual marathon, which he has run in each year since 2004. Despite the pain, Ashwood’s contributions in the aftermath of the bombing were exceptional. Because of his dedication, in 1997 Gov. Frank Keating appointed Ashwood director of OEM. He has served under the administrations of three Oklahoma governors, both in the Republican and Democratic parties: Gov. Keating (R), Gov. Brad Henry (D), and in 2010, Gov. Mary Fallin (R) announced she would retain Ashwood as director. Fallin values Ashwood’s capabilities and time-test- ed results. “Albert Ashwood is a dedicated and tireless

public servant. He is excellent at coordinating fi rst responders and relief agencies, and he will make sure the state does everything it can to help disas- ter victims recover as quickly as possible,” Fallin says. “Albert’s expertise and long history of deliv- ering results are key reasons why he is the lon- gest-serving emergency management chief in the country—and the best.”

Sharing Knowledge Ashwood’s service and experience with re- sponse and recovery efforts during the Oklahoma City bombing opened an opportunity for him to assist New York officials following the World Trade Center attack. “The difference between the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11 was the size. Only a handful


of people have personally witnessed the aftermath of both 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing. Since the experiences were somewhat similar, it was a unique privilege to be of service. I have learned a lot about grief; it is universal. No one’s grief is greater than another’s,” Ashwood says. Oklahoma’s director of emergency manage- ment is well known in national circles. He has previously served as president of the National Emergency Management Association and re- mains actively engaged in the association. “I enjoy learning from those who have been around and helping to train new directors on what to expect from the job,” Ashwood says about his participation with the national organization.

Preparedness is Key In his role serving Oklahomans, Ashwood says the state’s main challenge is to instill active pre- paredness in the minds of citizens before a disas- ter happens. Being proactive and encouraging families to have a disaster preparedness plan is crucial, Ashwood affi rms. “No one wants to sit around and think about what bad things can happen. It’s a tough obstacle to get individuals to prepare before something happens,” Ashwood says. “We’re only as prepared as a country as individuals and families are prepared.” When disaster strikes, some basic necessities are likely to be discontinued such as electricity. According to Ashwood, OEM’s solid partnership with electric cooperatives is a benefi t to rural communities in Oklahoma. “Co-ops play an enormous role in the commu-

nities they serve. Without electricity, you poten- tially have no water, heat or air conditioning. Then the state has to come in with resources. We need power back on to continue assisting individ- uals after a disaster.” Ashwood says OEM looks to the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives (OAEC) to coordinate efforts during disasters. “We’re always looking for ways to supplement co-ops’ efforts. We have a responsibility as a state to try and help co-ops get power back as fast as they can. We enjoy serving them,” Ashwood says. “OAEC does a great job with their mutual aid assistance program, which plays a crucial role during the recovery process.” OAEC’s Director of Public Relations,

Communications and Research, Sid Sperry, is the liaison between Oklahoma’s electric co-ops and OEM. He agrees the partnership with OEM is of great value. “The Oklahoma Association of Electric

Cooperatives and our 30 member-systems have a very close and valuable relationship with Oklahoma Emergency Management. Director Ashwood and his team of professionals have al- ways closely listened to our needs and our con- cerns, especially in times of disaster,” Sperry says. Ashwood adds OEM’s intent is to inform and train co-op member-systems in the opportunities they have though federal reimbursement after a disaster. “We understand co-ops serve in sparsely popu-

lated areas, and it takes manpower and costly re- sources to maintain this infrastructure,” Ashwood says.

Blessed Journey Ashwood has found his calling. This is clear not

only to him, but also to those who serve alongside him. OEM Deputy Director Michelann Ooten from Oklahoma City has served with Ashwood for more than 15 years. She holds Director Ashwood’s lifelong service in high regard. “When you work that many disasters, you have an amazing amount of knowledge to bring to the table. There are many lessons learned Ashwood brings with him from past experiences that bene- fit taxpayers and partnering organizations,” Ooten says. “I admire his ability to work with others while emphasizing the need for collabora- tion. He’s quick to make sure we ask for input from Oklahoma’s nearly 400 local emergency managers. He also emphasizes how important it is to work with our FEMA partners.” Ashwood never had the ambition to one day become director of emergency management. In his own words, “I don’t think anybody ever grows up and says they want to be an emergency man- ager.” But, for him, the steps he took in life were a preparation for what was to come: a journey of service. “Truth of the matter is, I’ve been very blessed.

Few people get a job that can impact people’s lives in such a positive way,” Ashwood says. Reaffi rming his father’s words, Ashwood lives by his actions, which speak of his commitment and dedication to Oklahomans. After all, he is still a “proud Okie from Muskogee.”

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