By Justin Bailey, The Bush School
For Kylie Jackson, reality set in on Wednesday, March 11th. On that day, the Houston Rodeo followed South by Southwest’s lead and cancelled its many events after fourteen cases of COVID-19 were found in the Greater Houston area. It was the first time in its eighty-eight-year history that the show wouldn’t go on.
Jackson, a 2017 Master of Public Service and Administration graduate, is the Performance and Accountability Manager for the City of Sugar Land, a large suburb of Houston.
“Like everyone else, I’d heard talk about the virus spreading throughout China early on but didn’t think much of it. I knew it was going to be a big deal throughout the region when the Houston Rodeo was cancelled,” Jackson said. “Nothing cancels the rodeo!”
Almost immediately, the City of Sugar Land went to work preparing for a prolonged crisis. Jackson was tapped to play a series of vital roles in the city’s Emergency Operations Center.
“I was told I’d be playing a role,” Jackson said, “but I didn’t realize that it would be consuming most of my work days for the foreseeable future.”
Like many essential employees, Jackson has become a “jack-of-all-trades” as the pandemic has escalated, putting the knowledge and skills she learned at the Bush School into practice. Primary among those is preparation of daily reports for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“FEMA has strict guidelines for forms that must be completed in order for a city to be reimbursed by the federal government,” Jackson explained. “The forms include information such as daily situation reports; daily tasks completed by each individual involved in the process; purchasing logs; incident logs; and reports for Fire and Police Departments, including which calls were COVID-related, what date and time they occurred, which vehicles were involved, and which people were assigned to that incident.”
The data collected is useful not just for reimbursement purposes but also for longer-term modeling the city is working on. As the economic shut-down is prolonged, uncertainty for businesses has never been higher.
“We want to be able to utilize the information at hand to predict possible outcomes down the road, such as how many of our businesses will have to close permanently and what the impact will be on sales tax revenue,” Jackson said. “The city has been very proactive in thinking ahead to what this event will mean for our current-year finances and our budget process for the next fiscal year; the more information and data we have, the better.”
Another role involves serving the community indirectly by supporting city employees who are working from home and struggling with isolation.
“Most of our employees throughout the city are working from home,” Jackson said. “That kind of isolation, not to mention the financial stresses facing many families right now, means people can feel kind of lost. To help address that, we’re mobilizing a group of Sugar Land employees who have been trained to help people manage stress in crisis events—from school shootings to on-the-job fatalities. The problem is that none of them have ever had to provide support during a prolonged event like this. We’re all learning as we go.”
While few, if any, were truly prepared for the extent of the impact the Coronavirus would have on their personal and professional lives, Jackson credits courses she took while earning her master’s degree as preparing her for emergency management.
More importantly, however, she cites the culture of public and selfless service that permeates the Bush School as driving her to do her best.
“My time at the Bush School and the notion that “Public Service is a Noble Calling” has impacted how I approach my career not only right now but every day,” Jackson said. “I’m here to do whatever needs to be done. Some days, I’m sitting next to the City Manager in a decision-making meeting, and others, I’m delivering hand sanitizer and helping clean city facilities.”
“Selfless service,” Jackson said, “isn’t about how important the task you’re assigned is. It’s about the positive impact you make on your organization and serving the people of the community as well as you possibly can.”