JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMIZ)
About a year after a tornado and flooding devasted parts of Cole County and Jefferson City, a new emergency management coordinator is taking the reigns.
Sierra Thomas started the job in January, working with Bill Farr, who is retiring as coordinator on Friday.
The coordinator position is the main leadership role at Cole County and Jefferson City Emergency Management.
The Russellville native got her start in emergency management when she lived in North Carolina, and Hurricane Katrina hit the Southeast. She decided to change careers because she saw the need the storm left in its path.
Thomas moved back to Mid-Missouri to study crisis disaster management and volunteer with the Red Cross. She started her career in disaster management in Camden County.
During last year's disasters, she worked for the Mid-Missouri Regional Planning Commission on getting grant funding for 13 counties. She said her experience will guide her in this new role.
"I'm a planner by nature," Thomas said. "Even though I wasn't directly involved with the disasters last year in the county, it's still something that continuously processes through my head."
Since Thomas started in January, she has been in contact with local fire and sheriffs' departments and the National Weather Service to go through the emergency operation plans for when another major disaster happens.
She said the May tornado was a wake-up call for citizens of Cole County and Jefferson City to take the alerts about serve weather seriously, and that disaster can strike locally.
"Everybody does have that mindset growing up here," Thomas said. "We hear the sirens going off, we have since we were little kids, 'it's fine I'm not going to worry about it' and then it came through and we had to worry about it."
Thomas said one of her top priorities taking on this position is public outreach and educating citizens about what emergency management is.
"We liaise between the state and our first responders," Thomas said. "We're planners, we are the public face."
She said the department will go to several community events coming up, as well as holding several storm-spotting and disaster training sessions to educate the public.
"If we do have another situation like we did last year, people are like 'what do I do?'" Thomas said. "I don't want that, I want to bypass that, and make sure everyone knows exactly what to do for themselves and for their neighbors and their community as a whole."
Thomas said her passion for this new role comes from her local roots.
"This is my community," Thomas said. "The citizens are my family, and people protect their family, and I think that's why I'm so passionate about it."
Watch ABC 17 News at 6:30 for more on this story.