Amie Hendrix, ’03, deputy county administrator of innovation and performance management in Tompkins County, located in the central Finger Lakes region of New York state, has taken on new responsibilities during the coronavirus outbreak.
Since March 3, Amie has been serving as the incident commander of the county’s Emergency Operations Center, overseeing all aspects of the county’s emergency response, including developing incident objectives, managing incident operations, distributing resources, and communicating with the public.
“I am not sure I will remember how to do my day job after this, as I haven't been operating in my deputy county administrator function for several weeks,” she joked.
Amie noted that the county’s health department started conducting disease surveillance for the coronavirus in December. In January, when her team began working with their community partners to discuss the need for response as local universities began to return from winter recess, she became aware of the potential impact the pandemic could have on the community. At that time, however, she was unsure of what that impact would be or how the community response would play out, she said.
Like counties across the country, Tompkins County has made numerous adjustments to its services and operations in response to the pandemic, Amie said.
“We opened our Emergency Operations Center on March 14, which resulted in pulling leadership from throughout the organization to serve as section chiefs charged with planning, logistics, operations, finance, and policy,” she said. “I moved my office location to the EOC headquarters after spending a few days in the health department in early March, and now report to a new site. Our section teams have moved to remote work with only the chiefs coming together every day (at a physical distance). As far as county operations, we have reduced our in-person staffing throughout all of our offices. This means that we are now providing telemedicine in our health and mental health department, our Department of Social Services is meeting with people remotely, our sheriff is doing daily briefings in cars, we have probation officers delivering meals, our facilities staff is cleaning more, our DMV has moved to mail-in only, and so much more.”
Because this pandemic is so different from anything they have ever encountered before, Amie said that it presents numerous challenges, most notably the inability for people to support one another through volunteer efforts.
“In most disasters, there are opportunities for people to do things to help,” she said. “This is totally different from other responses as it is an unseen disaster, and our best response for the large portion of our community is to stay home.”
The unknowns inherent in the pandemic, especially the fact that there appears to be no end in sight, can lead to worry about the future, she added.
“We don't know what it will look like on the other side of COVID-19,” she said. “Having people stay at home has meant significant changes to the ways we have been operating as a society. The nature of many of our systems, be it education, work, government, or community, has literally changed in just days. The economic and community recovery will be crucial to the success of our communities, yet we don't know what that looks like.”
However, the innovation and tenacity exhibited by those in her community is offering hope that this recovery will eventually happen.
“Within my organization, I have seen our teams come together to support one another,” she said. “I have staff from throughout the department stepping up and finding ways to do new things. We reduced our in-person workforce to 50% within two days; that pace would not have been possible without the commitment and dedication of our staff.
“I also find hope in the way that our community is coming together to respond,” she continued. “While there isn't a need to build literal bridges as a response to this disaster, there is a need to find ways to build figurative bridges. Neighbors and people around the world are finding community and socialization while remaining physically distant.”
Amie, herself, found a way to reach out to her community of Niagara University alumni.
“Earlier this week, I met virtually with my former roommates and fellow NUTS (Niagara University Theatre Students), and we laughed for two hours straight,” she said. “We haven't all been in the same physical space for over 10 years, yet this pandemic brought us together. It made my next day so much better to know that I am not in this alone.”