Brenda DeRusso, Cortland's 'Disaster Lady,' retires after 30 years

CORTLAND, N.Y. –A longtime county employee was applauded for her decades of service to the area during a meeting of the Cortland County Legislature Thursday night.

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Brenda DeRusso, known to many in Cortland as the "Disaster Lady," received a certificate of recognition Thursday from the county legislature.

DeRusso has seen her share of disasters–the blizzard of '93, the floods of 2005 and 2009–and county leaders credit her with bringing millions of dollars in disaster relief funds to area residents over the span of her 30-year career.

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Brenda DeRusso, left, receives a certificate of recognition from the Cortland County Legislature. Standing right is legislator Dick Bushnell (Peter Blanchard/Cortland Voice)

DeRusso was hired in 1986 to the county's emergency management office. In 1993, she became the deputy director of the department but is often referred to as the county's emergency manager.

"I never expected this is where I would be in 30 years," DeRusso said Thursday night after accepting the certificate. "My, how time flies." She then received a standing ovation from the room.

DeRusso earned her nickname early in her career. In 1998, many properties were damaged by straight-line winds from a tornado that came through central New York. DeRusso was part of the team responding to the event, and a news article referred to her as the "disaster lady."

"It may not be flattering, but in this business it's actually the best it can get," she says of the nickname.

DeRusso says while she is leaving "a labor of love," she will continue to remain involved in the community after her retirement and feels she is leaving in the county in good standing.

County lawmakers passed a comprehensive emergency management plan on Thursday, which DeRusso says will help officials provide effective local responses for when disasters occur.

"I can see us having gone from a more reactive position to really being proactive."

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