FEPA Executive Director
1. HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN THE INDUSTRY?
After graduating from Florida State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science, I planned to attend law school. In a very hilarious and universe-signaling twist, I was walking to class one day when I noticed that the Urban Planning Master’s program was giving a $5,000 stipend for graduate assistants. I saw this as an opportunity to continue school and save some money.
After graduate school, I went to work in health care planning, but many of my colleagues worked at the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) in land use planning. Through them, I discovered the Division of Emergency Management within DCA. Because I am interested in the principles and foundations of programs and policies, my undergraduate and graduate studies were quite beneficial in this early stage of my career. Although my education provided the prerequisites for the job, a large portion of my experience came from hands-on learning in the field as well as the ongoing study of EM. It was a transitional period in the field where it was often male dominated, with many leaders coming from a military background as veterans leading the way with decades of education and expertise, and then there I was with the basics. My emphasis on studying the regulations and making decisions consistent with statutory requirements and administrative regulations, on the other hand, provided them with a fresh set of eyes. At the time, the EM leaders were searching for data analysts, technical writers, and communicators...all of which I was anxious to do!
My male mentors assisted me in developing new talents and explaining aspects of the profession to me that I didn't fully understand at the time or wanted clarity on. There were, and still are, a lot of programmatic aspects of the profession, such as government regulations and priorities, to master. In addition, at the time, the Division of Emergency Management’s staff was quite small, compared to today, so you had an opportunity to learn all aspects of the profession, not specialize in one area. This allowed me to become a little bit of everything, and the 20+ years I worked there were very rewarding.
I’m a big fan of learning the rules and regulations of the field. Experiencing the multiple amendments and adjustments to the Stafford Act directly related to events during my career, as the legislation has matured, has provided a knowledge base and background on the changes as well as an understanding of the limits of the federal disaster assistance programs. If you’re able to, learn the history of emergency management, specifically in Florida. As a state, we have been extremely fortunate to be led by such strong leaders and have great fundamentals. Also, I can’t reiterate enough the importance of participating and listening. Offering to write down notes or document the decisions made in a meeting cannot only benefit the team but also open up conversations for you to take part in. It may be hard at the beginning of your career to express interest, but once your foot is in the door don’t limit yourself to just your job requirements. Do your job really well, and then diversify from there. Adapt a skill set and constantly refine and add to it. Lastly, get familiar with both the private and public sector and opportunities for their collaboration by learning the funding rules and grant opportunities and disaster assistance requirements.
6. HAVE YOU READ A RECENT ARTICLE OR BOOK THAT INSPIRED YOU?
I read a lot actually. I read articles that aren’t related to emergency management but then often I am able to apply what I’ve read back to an EM related situation. It's a bit of an “aha” moment to think “wow, yeah this could’ve helped in conversation I just had yesterday.” I think reading a wide variety of articles helps to develop skills such as getting your point across in a captivating way and relating back scenarios to the current situation.
Funny story actually... I was attending a national EM conference, and we broke for lunch when a woman came running in late. She sat at our table and contributed to the conversation, but then started laughing to herself. She realized halfway through the lunch that she was at the wrong conference event and actually belonged at lunch in another ballroom at a medical conference. Before she left, she mentioned how captivating the conversation was because we weren’t just talking about emergency management, but our experiences, backgrounds, and careers. She only realized she was at the wrong conference when she noticed the meeting signs, but she contributed much to the conversation!
I am probably most proud of our work as a team to close out of the Hurricane Andrew response and recovery and which took years to complete. With the fusion of operations and planning in the mid to late 1990s, the division itself became considerably more multi-functional. The challenges posed by the 2004-05 hurricane season enabled us to improve our logistical skills while also increasing the industry's professionalism. It's gratifying to reflect on how much respect Emergency Management has gained throughout the years and how early leaders paved the way for current practices. As an example, following Hurricane Andrew, Governor Chiles spearheaded the development of the first Southeast Region Mutual Aid compact, which became the foundation for the national Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) widely used today. I was quite fortunate to be treated with respect. I never had to force my way into meeting rooms or demand to be deployed to a site, but I did make a point of expressing my interest. As women, I believe that expressing our interest in as many opportunities as possible allows us to keep as many doors open and encourages us to participate to the conversation. I always say I asked practical questions like, "Shouldn't we be writing this down?" during decision making meetings which helped to become accepted into the often male-dominated meetings and was welcomed.
Hurricane Katrina also provided Florida EM with the opportunity to collaborate with local governments and assist with mutual aid relief. Although Mississippi was not the primary focus of Katrina, Florida Emergency Management assisted in the state's immediate response and recovery. It was a time of pride for us.
7. HOW DO YOU STAY ENGAGED WITH YOUR COMMUNITY?
Through FEPA, our community in Florida is extremely fortunate because it's about 850 unique members spread across the state! This allows for lots of networking opportunities at seminars and conferences which pave the way for more one-on-one conversations. Everyone is so willing to share information and help each other meet their responsibilities. Our conference calls, meetings and events with Emergency Managers give time for check-ins as well as informal conversations.
Feeding off my background in sports, I played in the flag football national championship! We did not win, but I still had fun and met great people. I’ve also always really enjoyed the outdoors since I was young. I like to joke that my first pager was given to me by my mother when she used to attach an alarm clock to my tricycle. When the alarm went off, I knew I’d need to peddle home from wherever I adventured in the neighborhood for the day.
9. ANY TIPS FOR WORK/LIFE BALANCE?
3. WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER TO BE A ROADBLOCK FOR WOMEN IN THE INDUSTRY?
Do it. We get so involved and so engaged that we need to carve time into our schedules. Put it on the calendar. A great example of this, is when I was working at the Department of Community Affairs early in my career our Department Secretary was a woman. She would often leave the office early enough to attend her sons’ afternoon baseball games. She along with other women in key positions who had younger children would often try to arrange their schedules to support their kids. Whether it was to be on time for the bus stop or watch their baseball games, these women made sure their families were a top priority. No doubt leaving the office early every once in a while, meant bringing work home or arriving early on other days, but it was important.
Do the obvious and use your vacation time and time away from the office to re-charge. I wasn’t super good at this all the time, but it’s also important to recognize the fluctuations in disaster prone times of the year. You are going to test your limits, but the more important factor is being able to not push yourself over the edge. Take the opportunity to also enjoy your colleagues and co-workers – we had a great intramural co-ed softball team when I worked at DCA, and the connections made on the field translated well back in the office.
Being able to unwind and disconnect from work when home is also important. Engage in conversation with your family. Always try to have a great circle of friends and be willing to do for others what you want for yourself. People usually focus on the disaster at hand but in the emergency management community when we’re deployed it's not only taking a toll on us but also our families. Those who are single also may face a different struggle. My friends and I never hesitate to take care of each other in those times by helping with any task such as picking up mail or walking their dogs.
10. SHARE YOUR BEST CAREER ADVICE.
4. SHARE A HOT TOPIC OR TREND IN YOUR FIELD!
To be successful, you need to have a lot of diverse skill sets. Learn from others, but also acknowledge that there may be a skill that you’re better at than others because of your background, interests or experiences. Don’t get discouraged, your skills sets will adapt to the next event. You’ll always need to be ready to adapt.
Definitely the world of cyber. Who isn’t following cyber? I love to research topics that I don’t fully understand. This one has definitely been educational and has broad consequences. It’s important that we recognize how clear of a threat that cyber is and so we can begin planning and mitigating before future events occur.
Another topic that I’ve been following is healthcare. Since the pandemic it's been interesting to experience, as well as to watch, the convergence of this field with Emergency Management. There have been bumps in the road, but if nothing else, both fields have taken them as learning opportunities. Hopefully, if for some reason we have a dry spell, we can take the downtime to grow and strengthen the relationship between both, not forget what we learned together in crisis mode.
Climate is also a topic that I make sure to follow with a close eye, especially being a native of, and living in Florida. Watching sea levels rise on our coasts gives us the opportunity as a state to advocate for elevation and mitigation. The response in Florida is also important to document so we can further apply these efforts globally.