For Christmas one year, Deborah Needham gave her family emergency-preparedness literature. The next time she saw her sister, Needham was...

For Christmas one year, Deborah Needham gave her family emergency-preparedness literature.

The next time she saw her sister, Needham was dragged out to the garage where her sister proudly displayed her stash of emergency water.

“My sister caught the fire,” Needham said.

Needham lives to prepare, and she’s made a career of it.

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After years of working as a paramedic and teaching medical advice to 911 operators, Needham starts Monday as Renton’s new emergency-management director.

“I realized I’m really good under stress,” Needham said.

Needham’s position is a new one for the city, something Renton has needed for a long time, Fire Chief I. David Daniels said.

Working with the fire chief, Needham will assess the city’s emergency preparedness and update its emergency-management plan. Daniels and Needham say their goal to is to prepare the residents of Renton for all types of emergencies, big and small.

Preparedness starts on the local level, Needham said.

“The responsibility for local response comes for local resources,” Needham said.

In an emergency, federal resources can’t swoop in at a moment’s notice, she said.

Aside from large-scale disasters, like earthquakes and tsunamis, people also need to think about learning CPR and knowing when to call 911, Needham said.

Personal experience has taught her also to be prepared for everyday emergencies. For several years, she lived with her family in a log cabin in California’s Sierra Nevada, 10 miles from the nearest small town. Power outages were a regular occurrence in the winter.

“We had to kind of make do on our own,” Needham said. “We learned how to take care of ourselves.”

Since Needham was hired, she’s been busy soaking up as much information she can about the city’s state of preparedness.

Residents are key to how well-prepared a city is, and Needham said she’ll look for people in the community who are passionate about being prepared. She also will work closely with the city’s community emergency response teams.

In August, the Fire Department will run a three-day drill to test residents’ about emergency preparedness. The simulated drill will give people a chance to try living without shelter or power and with limited provisions, Daniels said.

“They’ll be able to see the difference between what they think and how prepared they actually are,” Daniels said.

Lauren Vane: 253-234-8604 or lvane@seattletimes.com