Q&A with Jenifier Boyer, emergency management coordinator for Midland County

In November, Jenifier Boyer received a certificate of recognition from the Michigan Emergency Management Association for her exemplary service to the community following the breach of the dams on Wixom and Sanford Lakes in May that resulted in the record, destructive flood. While thousands of properties received significant damage, no lives were lost.


Boyer has served as Midland County’s emergency management coordinator since January 2016. Before that, Boyer worked as the emergency manager for Genesee County’s Homeland Security Office (Flint) for seven years. She’s a graduate of Holly High School, attended Oakland Community College, and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in human resource management from the University of Michigan-Flint. She’s also earned certification from the state of Michigan’s Professional Emergency Management (PEM) program.


Q: When you look back at the disaster, what are the first things that come to mind?

A: The willingness of community partners to come together to do whatever was needed to evacuate people and provide emergency shelter, all while dealing with the pandemic. Just the amazing partnerships and support from community organizations: the donations, volunteer relief, vouchers, just all those things that came together to support our residents in the aftermath and how quickly that all came together. Dow, United Way, the foundations, the long-term flood recovery effort, it was just phenomenal. A lot of that happened with little coordination from me in that first week while I was dealing with ongoing issues of the disaster itself.


Q: As we go into 2021, what are some of your worries?

A: People need to stay off the lake bottoms. They’re not safe. There’s a lot of instability. I’m worried about first responders trying to timely reach people to rescue them. We’re working with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the Four Lakes Task Force trying to get those areas cleaned up. Four Lakes received grants from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for erosion projects and the debris clean up at the Sanford Dam.


[I’m] also worried about our community’s recovery as a whole. Still worried about people who need help who haven’t reached out. There are resources out there to help. With winter coming, also concerned about mental health issues, being stuck inside due to the pandemic. We have a lot of leaders who’ve been burning both ends of the candle; hope they take some time to get some rest.


[I’m] also concerned about flooding, heavy rains in the future. The rain is not something we can keep from happening. Flooding will be an ongoing issue regardless of the dams.


Q: What should we all do to be prepared for the next emergency?

A: People should have their emergency alerts enabled on their cell phones. They should sign up for Nixle (https://local.nixle.com/register/) for emergency and evacuation information. People should have an NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) weather radio — good thing to have, costs $30-$40. It’s very specific for hazards, flooding, and it can also warn about a hazardous materials release. It’s something to have on all the time. It can wake you up in the middle of the night. Sometimes people turn off their phones and don’t get those alerts. Just have a battery back up in your weather radio.


Everyone should look at the insurance they have. Everyone should look at having flood insurance. In 2017, we had a flash flood in areas that weren’t in the flood plain.


You should have emergency supply kits; people should be self-reliant for the first 72 hours after a disaster. Have plans. Do you have family you can stay with; what are some of [the] things you can do to plan ahead so you’re not overwhelmed?


You should also do fire drills at home. Figure out how to get out of the house and where to meet. If there’s severe weather, determine where you can take shelter as a family.


Q: Why did you choose this field?

A: I kind of fell into it. In 2006 or so, I started working with the Salvation Army (Flint) as their volunteer coordinator. Ran their mobile canteen during fires and other events to support first responders. Through that, I experienced how great that was to support them. I’m not one to deal with blood and gore. Through that, I became aware of emergency management. I like that I can bring people together to work on solutions. [It’s] nice to provide service to the community and try to make a difference. It’s an opportunity to save lives. Like this past year, we saved lives. To be part of that, it’s an honor — rewarding, humbling, and challenging. It can be stressful but it’s different every day.


I like serving my community and I think I’m making a difference even though no one knows that 340 days per year.

Read more articles by Ron Beacom.

Ron Beacom is a communications professional and managing editor of Catalyst Midland. He's currently a freelance writer for the Midland Daily News and the producer/host of "Second Act: Life at 50 Plus" for WDCQ-Delta College Public Media (PBS). He was the co-producer on the WDCQ documentary "Breached! The Tittabawassee River Disaster."
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