Emergency Services History and Staff

Abby Watkins
Emergency Services
  • 306 North Street, PO Box 885
    White Cloud, MI 49349
    M-F 8am-5pm
  • (231) 689-7354
    (231) 689-7305

Newaygo County’s Emergency Management Program was established in the late 60’s. Originally known as the Civil Defense Program, the first Director, Victor R Johnson, was responsible for the establishment of county’s first Emergency Operations Center in 1967.

His predecessor Dick Black managed four Presidential Disaster Declarations back to back including the flood of September 1975, ice storm of March 1976, and January Blizzards of 1977 and 1978. In the early 1980s, the program was renamed to the Emergency Services Department. Donald Betts became the county’s first Emergency Services Director. He directed the program for over 20 years and managed the County’s largest disaster, the Flood of 1986. With the addition of Homeland Security in 2002, the focus on the program grew. When Don retired in 2006, Newaygo County re-evaluated the program and determined the need to move from a part time program to a full time program. Russ Kolski was brought in to manage the transition period. The current program director, Abigail Watkins was appointed in January of 2007 by the Newaygo County Board of Commissioners as the first full time Emergency Services Director in Newaygo County. 

Director Abigail (Abby) Watkins

Director Abby Watkins has seventeen years of experience in Emergency Management within the State of Michigan. She has served as the Newaygo County Emergency Services Director since 2007 and has coordinated 2 Presidential Disaster Declaration for Flooding and a Pandemic, 3 Governor’s Disaster Declaration for Severe Storms and Flooding, and numerous local emergency disaster declarations. She is a certified Professional Emergency Manager and a Community Emergency Response Team Instructor through the Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division. Director Watkins is also a certified Incident Command Instructor through Center for Domestic Preparedness, a certified Master Exercise Practitioner and an Advanced Public Information Officer through the Emergency Management Institute, a licensed Medical First Responder, and certified American Heart Association Instructor. Abby holds an associate’s degree in Business Management.

As the Newaygo County Emergency Services Director, Abby also serves at the Program Manager for all services coordinated by the department. Director Watkins chairs the Local Emergency Planning Team, is the secretary/treasurer for the Newaygo County Fire Chiefs Association, secretary for the Region 6 Homeland Security Planning Board, and emergency management representative on the Region 6 Healthcare Coalition. Abby served on the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy Dam Safety Taskforce from 2020 – 2021 and is currently serving on the Michigan Citizen-Community Emergency Response Coordinating Council (MCCERCC).

In February 2018 Director Watkins received a Wildfire Mitigation Award for her innovation and leadership displayed in her wildfire mitigation efforts. The Wildfire Mitigation Awards are sponsored by the National Association of State Foresters, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Fire Protection Association, and the USDA Forest Service. In addition, Abby was recognized in 2008, 2009, and 2015 for her work in Emergency Management by the Michigan Emergency Management Association and was awarded Coordinator of the Year for under 60,000 population.

Deputy Director Renee Gavin

Deputy Director Renee Gavin has served Newaygo County as Deputy Director of Emergency Services since June of 2017.  She has over 20 years of experience in various aspects of public and private safety and security with a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice.  Renee is a certified Professional Emergency Manager (PEM) through Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division, a Licensed EMT, an American Heart Association Instructor, and Community Emergency Response Team Instructor certified through the Emergency Management Institute.

As the Deputy Director, Renee Coordinates the Newaygo County Community Emergency Response Team and Medical Reserve Corps (CERT/MRC) Volunteer Team.  Under the direction of the Newaygo County Emergency Services Department, the CERT and MRC Team train volunteer team members in basic response skills. Team members also help with non-emergency projects that help improve the safety of the community. Under Renee’s direction, the CERT and MRC team have built strong partnerships with local emergency first responders and regional community leaders making them an integral part of the local Emergency Management System.

Deputy Director Gavin also serves as a primary point of contact for the Newaygo County Hazard Management Plan as well as SARA Title III hazardous materials site plans. Renee really enjoys the variety of responsibilities associated with her role, especially research, Geology, and working with public safety and community partners to assist Newaygo County’s efforts in the prevention, preparedness for, response to, and recovery from disaster and threats within the County.  Renee has volunteered with the American Red Cross in Disaster Health Services, Habitat for Humanity (she’s handy with tools) building homes/onsite medical standby, and she helped found and served as Secretary for the Kent Developmental Disabilities Foundation 2001-2003.