Erika Katt: Ready When Disaster Strikes
Erika Katt is one of the brave few who run toward emergencies instead of away. “I’ve always been drawn to the emergency management world,” she said.
Katt began her passion for public service with West Thurston Regional Fire Authority, ultimately earning the rank of acting lieutenant. “Firefighting has always been in my blood, as my dad was a smokejumper,” she said. “I knew smokejumping was not in my future, due to an injury, so I leaned more toward structural firefighting.”
When Katt’s father decided to start a new composting business, she saw an opportunity to help him. “He wanted to start this new business and I wanted to help, but didn’t have a lot of business experience,” she said. “And I thought, maybe this is a good way to get my bachelor’s degree. I was thinking about becoming a physician’s assistant, but this degree was something I could use even if I didn’t; not to mention, it was a way to help my dad’s new business adventure.”
Katt enrolled in Centralia College’s bachelor's in Applied Management (BAS-AM) program, working with her father’s business throughout. She even completed her internship there. “I was able to help out a lot,” she said. “So many aspects of the program were helpful because I didn’t have a lot of business experience at the time.”
In addition to earning her degree and assisting in the family business, Katt also started her own family while earning a bachelor's degree. Just one month before graduation, she gave birth to her daughter. “My class saw me all through the pregnancy,” she said with a laugh.
It wasn’t easy completing challenging coursework while pregnant and with a newborn, but Katt worked through it all. Her cohort supported her along the way. “There was difficulty but my class and the teachers were so supportive,” she said. “Their support and encouragement was amazing.”
After graduation, she took some time off to be with her daughter and reevaluate her next move. The schooling and schedule required of a physician’s assistant no longer appealed to her. “I didn’t want to be away from her,” she said. “So I decided to change paths.”
She landed on emergency management, which turned out to be the perfect fit. “I love public service and helping others,” she said. “I love the career field of an emergency manager and the continuous education of this career. There is always room for improvement and growth, always something new to learn.”
She earned her Master’s in Public Administration with a concentration in emergency management. “I felt having a Master’s in Public Administration would open more doors for me – and it did,” she said.
Katt is now the Preparedness and Response Coordinator for Thurston County Public Health and Social Services. She focuses her efforts on public health emergencies, working with community organizations like fire departments, law enforcement, hospitals, emergency management, tribal entities and public health agencies to prepare for potential disasters. “It’s exactly what I’m meant to do,” she said. “There are many parts of my career that are interesting. You never know what your day may bring.”
She recently volunteered to create a Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan (CEMP) for the City of Yelm. In the process, she worked with the state to create new guidance documents to help cities and counties around the state write their CEMPs – a requirement for all. Like her full-time job, the Yelm project was a collaborative effort with many community and public partners. “We all work together,” she said.
The highly collaborative nature of the BAS-AM program helped Katt build and strengthen these skills. “It helped me develop the tools to work well with everyone,” she said, “specifically, creating and understanding the importance of relationships.”
Katt is thriving in her chosen career and looks forward to continued growth in the future. “I guess I was born to be in public services, as that is what my entire working life has revolved around,” she said. “I truly have enjoyed the relationships I have built, knowledge I continue to build upon, and the community I get to serve. It is truly a remarkable job and I am so extremely grateful I have found a career I thoroughly enjoy.”