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Video by Ilea Shutler. Produced by Dick Pryor.

“Conversations” is a series of video interviews with Oklahomans about subjects that relate to some of the state’s larger issues. The 2016-2017 series is sponsored by the Chickasaw Nation and is made possible by a grant from the Institute for Nonprofit News.

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Albert Ashwood is closing in on his 20th year as director of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

He started working there in 1988.

That means he has been immersed in responses to some of the most devastating storms and other disasters in Oklahoma’s history, including the Oklahoma City bombing and the 1999 and 2013 storms in Moore and Oklahoma City.

One of the public perceptions of Ashwood and his team is that they are there to help offer protection. But while that’s true in a way, such as securing federal aid to defray costs of home storm shelter purchases, Ashwood has a different perspective on emergency preparedness for residents.

Ashwood spoke to Oklahoma Watch from the State Emergency Operations Center, the command center for reporting emergencies and coordinating state response activities.

He is originally from Muskogee, and is the longest-serving state emergency management director in the country. Disaster struck his family in 1995 when his sister-in-law, Susan Ferrell, was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing.

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