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Bates Russell help led the city's early response to the COVID-19 pandemic, getting ahead of the crisis.

COURTESY PHOTO: CITY OF TUALATIN - RUSSELLWhen the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Bates Russell and his crew kicked into high gear, ensuring that all Tualatin city employees had the appropriate technology to work at home.

Russell was quick to secure the services of a plexiglass vendor to produce protective barriers to keep public and staff safe. Soon, everyone else was trying to buy plexiglass barriers, too, creating a scarcity of the product.

For those and other efforts, Russell was recently named Tualatin's 2020 Employee of the Year from a pool of 17 nominations from eight city departments.

"There is no one more deserving of this award than Bates Russell; he ran the equivalent of an ultra-marathon in 2020 at world-class sprint pace," said City Manager Sherilyn Lombos. "He and his team were literally everywhere, all the time, making sure that our employees had what they needed to do their jobs."

An almost five-year employee of Tualatin, Russell runs all the information technology aspects of the city and also is responsible for a maintenance staff charged with upkeep of city buildings, vehicles and property, excluding parks.

"I'm very surprised and very humbled ... and feel the love," Russell said of receiving the award, adding that it's nice to know "the work you do is appreciated."

Russell's duties also include heading up the city's emergency management services during what has proven to be a "perfect storm."

Because the COVID-19 pandemic demands social distancing, instead of hunkering down in the city's emergency management location at the city's operations center on Southwest Herman Road to deal with the issue, the emergency management team did so virtually.

What made the pandemic different is that normally training for typical emergencies involves preparing for a high-volume incident that's of a short duration, said Russell, when "everyone gets in the room" to address it.

"'There's a bridge collapsed' or 'there's ice' or 'it's a snow event' or 'a wind event' or 'flooding,'" said Russell, a Sherwood resident, rattling off some examples. "This is the exact opposite."

Instead of gathering in a situation room setting to respond to the crisis, with the pandemic unfolding over weeks and months, Russell described his team's marathon-not-a-sprint approach.

"Continue running the city, and make it safe for people and staff and citizens, and do it from afar," he said.

During COVID-19, Russell and his IT staff's challenge has been to collect and cobble together every bit of equipment they could to allow city workers to work at home. That led them to the Tualatin Public Library, where they borrowed as many tech devices as possible, even those that had been "decommissioned."

The fact that everyone else in the world was in the same boat in a quest for technology during a the pandemic caused a technology shortage, something that immediately became apparent to Russell.

"Getting a hold of laptops, webcams, computers, microphones, headsets — all that stuff became in really short supply," said Russell, who in the end supplied 140 employees with the needed equipment. "We were successful. In two weeks, we were able to deploy everyone safely and securely to their homes."

On the maintenance service side of things, Russell said when the pandemic first hit, he went about finding ways to obtain personal protective equipment as well as plexiglass at an affordable price. Those protective shields are now present throughout city offices.

But Russell is the first to point out that he's not doing all of this alone.

"I'm there. I'm participating and I'm helping, but I'm not an island," he said. "I have teams. I have good workers. We have amazing staff."

To reward his staff, Russell often brings donuts, candy or pizza to work, adhering to the belief that people bond over food.

"You're able to be a little more of yourself if you share a meal, you break bread, so to speak," he said. "If I can bring something that brings a little bit of joy to their day ... that's important."

Lombos, the city manager, praised Russell's attitude when it came time to select an Employee of the Year.

"Bates is one of the kindest, helpful, most supportive, dedicated humans on the planet; he always has a smile or a joke; he is positive and energetic; and always trying to find solutions," she said. "Bates was the glue that held us together in so many ways in 2020."


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