September 7, 2023
  • Redwood City – County Executive Mike Callagy today announced he has appointed Dr. Shruti Dhapodkar as the new director of the department tasked with coordinating countywide emergency planning, response and recovery.

    Shruti Dhapodkar

    As head of the Department of Emergency Management, Dhapodkar will play a key role in addressing challenges from earthquakes, wildfires, tsunamis, pandemics, climate change and other threats and crisis, both natural and human-caused.

    “We have faced many different types of crises in a short period of time in San Mateo County and I know Shruti is extremely prepared to take the department to new heights,” Callagy said.  “With her leadership, I am confident we will be ready to respond to the needs of our residents before, during and after any crisis.”

    The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Board of Supervisors. A vote is expected at its Sept. 12 meeting.

    The COVID-19 pandemic catapulted Dhapodkar (pronounced “Dha POD Car”), an emergency manager in San Mateo County Health since 2017, into a high-profile role.

    As COVID-19 case numbers grew in spring 2020, she coolly provided information and insight to policy makers and served as a liaison with the Association of Bay Area Health Officials. She then helped to launch and coordinate mass testing and mass vaccination sites with a focus on reaching communities most at risk.

    “During those first days of the pandemic and throughout that crisis, I was impressed with Shruti’s work ethic, her decision-making and her ability to get the seemingly impossible done,” Callagy said. “Shruti played a key role in establishing a model drive-through vaccination center and used her creative emergency response skills to help keep the San Mateo County community safe and vaccinated.”

    Dhapodkar, right, at a COVID-19 mass vaccination clinic set up at San Francisco International Airport. “With her leadership, I am confident we will be ready to respond to the needs of our residents before, during and after any crisis,” says Mike Callagy, the County's chief executive.

    Using her talents on a mass scale was what she had in mind when she graduated from medical school.

    She had initially trained as a surgeon but was drawn to the complex challenges of disaster planning and emergency management.

    “These last few years have been unprecedented in the number, variety and complexity of the challenges we as a County have faced,” Dhapodkar said. “What these challenges have shown us is that it’s more important than ever that we collaborate and coordinate with a wide variety of community groups and partners to prepare for whatever comes next.”

    With her medical training, it’s no surprise that much of her focus will be on prevention – reducing the risk of disaster and minimizing the losses should a disaster occur.

    Even before the wildfires that barreled over Maui brought alert and warning to the forefront, the department has been focusing on improving ways to communicate emergency information directly to the public.

    That work will intensify under Dhapodkar in a diverse county with the Pacific Ocean to the west, the bay to the east and a major earthquake fault running north to south. (If you haven’t already, sign up for SMC Alert, a notification system used to immediately contact you during urgent or emergency situations.)

    With an annual budget of $5.3 million and 10 employees, the Department of Emergency Management supports all 20 cities within San Mateo County during large-scale disasters and emergencies. The department also serves as the lever through which local agencies can request aid from the state and federal governments.

    Leading the County’s emergency management efforts takes special skills: coordinating agencies and personnel; balancing competing demands; advising policy makers in the midst of havoc.

    And this while always remembering that ultimately the goal is trying to minimize both the physical threat and the trauma to individuals and families on their worst day.

    For Dhapodkar, the move seems a natural fit. “I’m always the one,” she said, “finding the calm in the chaos.”

    Dhapodkar is expected to assume her new role on Monday, Oct. 2. She will succeed Don Mattei, who is retiring after a 40-plus-year career in public safety.

    About Shruti Dhapodkar
    Born in India, Dhapodkar moved with her family to Kewanee, Illinois, a city of about 12,000 people about 160 miles east and south of Chicago. (The Illinois state legislature declared Kewanee the “Hog Capital of the World” while the city hosts the annual Kewanee Hog Days celebration.)

    In addition to holding a medical degree, she is working on a master’s degree from the Naval Postgraduate School focusing on improving data-driven decision making.

    She has served in numerous leadership roles in crisis management and response activities. This includes serving in the emergency operations center for the 2022 North American Special Olympics in Orlando, Fla., leading a team of 50 professionals from law enforcement, fire, public health and Disney World.

    Dhapodkar lives with her husband in Redwood City. They share a rescue “mutt” named Gnocchi.

    She is the first woman to lead the County’s emergency management agency.

    Dhapodkar leads a training involving multiple agencies and volunteers. "I'm always the one finding calm in the chaos," she says.
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