Holly Powers is assistant director of the Placer County Office of Emergency Services. (Photo by Terence Duffy)

Emerging Leaders: Holly Powers

We honor 10 young professionals who have made a difference during the COVID-19 pandemic

Back Article Jul 10, 2020 By Sena Christian

Holly Powers

Assistant director, Placer County Office of Emergency Services

This story is part of our July 2020 issue. To subscribe, click here.

Holly Powers has always been driven to set goals. But, she concedes, going after a goal might sometimes mean inadvertently missing other opportunities. It was happenstance — not a goal — that led her away from her planned profession in human resources and into what is now an 11-year career in emergency management. 

“I think that’s something I’ve definitely learned in my emergency-management career … the biggest thing is always take the blinders off, because you never know what might be sitting over here on the right or the left that you’re just not seeing that’s going to be impactful in everything you do,” she says.

See the full list of Young Professionals honorees here

Powers, 34, earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration (with an emphasis in human resources and organizational behavior) and MBA from Sacramento State. During her last undergraduate semester in 2009, she needed a job and accepted a position with Oak Ridge Associated Universities, which contracted with the State of California on large emergency and disaster training; she worked there nearly five years. She next landed positions in emergency management for Yolo, Yuba and Solano counties before becoming assistant director of Placer County Office of Emergency Services in July 2018.

In her role, Powers brings together county and city departments, special districts, fire and law enforcement agencies, nonprofits, and other partners to prepare for, respond to, and lead the recovery from natural or human-made disasters. Typically, the biggest hazard in Placer County — a diverse geographic landscape extending from Roseville to Lake Tahoe — is wildland fire. Other hazards include severe winter storms, flooding, drought, earthquakes, major power outages, terrorism and pandemics. 

“Keep your eyes open to all opportunities, not just the ones you think you are looking for. … Stepping outside of my comfort zone and taking on roles I thought were beyond my abilities ended up being by far the best way to advance my skill set and career.”

Powers is responsible for developing emergency plans and managing the county’s emergency programs, including its Emergency Operations Center, which has been activated in response to the coronavirus pandemic since March 6. “The EOC’s main goal is to provide a framework so departments and agencies can work together to form a coherent, comprehensive disaster response and recovery,” she says. It collects data and disseminates information to stakeholders, residents and the media. She says it also analyzes data to “assist in decision-making and policy direction, resource acquisition and allocations, expense tracking and recovery coordination.”

Because the pandemic is a public health disaster, most of the “boots on the ground” work is done by the Placer County Health and Human Services department, which has a Department Operations Center and the subject-matter experts, Powers says. Her role is to support the HHS and oversee a centralized effort to communicate critical information to the public and the media through the EOC Joint Information Center. 

Powers says the greatest accomplishment of her career so far has been managing the EOC throughout the COVID-19 incident.

Powers’ original goal to work in human resources has benefited her career after all — even if it’s not exactly in the way she once imagined. “What I didn’t realize is I was kind of preparing myself for just dealing with people,” she says. “Emergency management is really all about pulling people together … to create a common vision and mission, and then executing to make sure we’re providing the best services and response possible for our communities.”

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Kirk Kushen (not verified)July 19, 2020 - 4:22pm

Holly Powers has brought the Placer County Office of Emergency Services to a very high level in a short period of time. I had the pleasure of working with Holly on several different challenges impacting the safety of our communities and was always impressed with her professionalism. Way to go Holly!

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