Summit County’s new emergency manager hit the ground running
Kathryn McMullin brings statewide experience to position
Kathryn McMullin’s first day on the job came six months into the pandemic, a strange time for anyone to switch roles, but even more so in McMullin’s line of work: She was hired to be Summit County’s emergency manager.
“It was a little bizarre,” she said about the timing. “That was something that was a little intimidating about it.”
McMullin got right to work establishing a system to support the county’s mass vaccination campaign and meeting her new colleagues one at a time, often over Zoom.
Already she has earned praise from Summit County Manager Tom Fisher and Health Director Rich Bullough.
“She’s really good at what she does,” Bullough said, citing her organizational and management skills, and experience. “… Just a master at tracking everything, scheduling everything.”
Summit County had an interim emergency manager since February, when officials reorganized roles and moved the person who had been serving as the county’s emergency manager into a similar role at the Health Department.
Sheriff’s Lt. Alan Siddoway stepped in on an interim basis in addition to his other duties, including overseeing the county’s Search and Rescue team. He and Park City Emergency Manager Mike McComb managed the emergency operations center established in the first part of the pandemic last spring.
In July, staffers told the County Council the county’s emergency management resources were overextended. The council agreed to hire a full-time manager, but on a time-limited basis, with the position to be reevaluated during budget talks this fall.
Councilors at the time had just finished slashing nearly 10% from the county’s budget and resisted adding a full-time employee during a hiring freeze.
McMullin was hired last summer and her first day was Aug. 31.
An emergency manager isn’t usually the person in charge of the actual emergency response — the title of incident commander often goes to experts in the specific type of emergency, like a fire warden during a wildfire.
The emergency manager, McMullin said, is responsible for making sure that the person leading the response has the resources to adequately address the situation and to make sure organizational structures are in place to ensure success.
Bullough is the incident commander of the emergency operations center for the vaccination effort.
“When we decided to stand up the EOC this go-around, Kathryn, she’s just an expert in this, the logistical part of it, building out the EOC with all the required functions, putting team members under those functions, and I think most importantly, is documenting everything,” Bullough said.
He also lauded the operations center that Siddoway and McComb ran during the pandemic’s early days.
Joining the government in the middle of a pandemic, McMullin said she found Summit County to have a “good foundation” already in place and that she was looking forward to augmenting some of its emergency plans as the county recovers from the pandemic.
County Manager Tom Fisher has been impressed with McMullin’s efforts thus far.
“Her expertise has been integral to efficiently organizing the County and community response to the vaccination efforts,” Fisher wrote in a message to The Park Record. “… She has brought a level of professionalism to this emergency support that we have not seen before and she has done so while being new with Summit County.”
McMullin, 44, joins the county from the state’s division of emergency management, where she said she had experience facilitating relationships between infrastructure organizations that are critical during an emergency response. She also held leadership positions in intelligence analysis and emergency planning.
“I loved going all over the state, seeing how they ran resources,” she said. “… All of my relationships I had at state and county levels, let’s use that to our advantage in Summit County.”
Fisher said McMullin’s broad experience in emergency operations at the state level helped set her apart.
Emergency management is something of a second career for McMullin after working for years as a corporate trainer. She said she knew she wanted to go back to school after raising her three daughters, and was scrolling through potential course offerings when the epiphany hit.
“I always wanted to respond, since I was a young girl, but I thought you had to be a cop or a firefighter,” she said. “… That’s not quite what I’m good at.”
McMullin said she plans to focus on supporting the vaccination campaign and the county’s transition to the recovery stage of the pandemic, with medium-term goals including improving the county’s evacuation routes and updating flood maps.
She was also looking to improve community involvement with the county’s emergency systems, including leading community trainings and making sure that plans are simple enough to be easily understood and accessible.
McMullin and her husband have lived in the Salt Lake Valley for 25 years, but they’ve always loved the rural feel of the East Side of Summit County. She said they plan to relocate to the Chalk Creek area.
Despite the grim circumstances those in her profession often encounter, McMullin said she is drawn to the idea of helping others and keen to bring her knowledge of statewide best practices to the county’s operations.
“I get to take all of that and take it into Summit County and build this program to the potential I can see it having — coolest job ever,” she said. “… You get to be one of those people that helps in the disaster. This is a horrible thing that’s happening, (but) you get to say, ‘I’m here to help, and I know what I’m doing.’”
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The only food pantry in Kamas closed its doors in May. Both it and its next-door neighbor, the former South Summit Fire Station, are slated for redevelopment. The pantry hopes to open a temporary location this fall.