10 Qs with
Director, Disaster and Resilience at SWCA Environmental Consultants
1. HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN THE INDUSTRY?
I was living in South Florida in 2005 when Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma impacted my home and community. By complete chance, I met a man who was running a debris monitoring and FEMA grant management company that was fairly new in a fairly new industry and they were doing a great deal of local hiring to help build capacity. I thought it might be a temporary job for six months and was intrigued to be doing something new and a little out of my comfort zone while helping my community to recover. At the time, I never dreamed that I would be in essentially the same industry 16 years later and that my career would have grown the way it has. It turned out to be challenging and rewarding in a way that I hadn't found in my work life up to that point and I will always be incredibly grateful for the direction that chance encounter has taken my life.
Stay open to opportunities. For me every project has been different and been an opportunity to travel to new places, meet new people and learn new things. I have never completed a new project or assignment where I have not learned something new or picked up a new skill along the way. The challenge I would give someone is to pay attention to those things, jot them down and work to build that skill set. Focus on taking those lessons learned from each job and keep adding to your resume and expanding your skills. I have been blessed to build a rewarding career by just adding to those little lessons along the way and taking next steps based on what excited me. There is such a broad variety of roles and projects and tasks that make up this industry that there are really unlimited paths someone could take. I would tell someone starting out to stay open about the direction a career in emergency management may take them.
6. HAVE YOU READ A RECENT ARTICLE OR BOOK THAT INSPIRED YOU?
I keep a copy on my desk of "All We Can Save: Truth, Courage and Solutions for the Climate Crisis". It's a book of collected essays and short writings all by women at the forefront of the climate movement edited by Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Dr. Katherine K. Wilkinson. It's one of the books that first got me interested in the idea of resilience and how we can think about the component building resilience can play in a traditional post-disaster response. The short essay format is perfect for me to keep close and be able to read when I need a refocus or a reminder on the current goals of my work.
It's really hard to choose one as there are so many. The best thing about all my projects is getting to know my clients who are amazing public servants striving to make the communities in which they work and live a better place. If I had to pick one project I am particularly proud of, I think I would have to choose the Hurricane Irma response at the firm I worked with in 2017 and the County government I personally supported in their recovery. Over a decade into my career, I was mostly working in a managerial and administrative capacity. My interactions with clients were often limited to business development efforts, big picture strategy and resolving issues when needed. It had been years since I had been in the field for more than a day or two visit to check-in on project operations. Hurricane Irma making landfall in the same period as Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria really stretched the industry and it was an all-hands on deck situation in terms of response. I was proud of working with a team who ensured we met the needs of every single one of our clients and that meant all of us took on projects to make that happen. I ended up working as a Project Manager for a County not far from my Florida home. I was in the field every day for over three months, in daily meetings with County staff and personally responsible for a project in a way that I hadn't been in a long time. The long hours and hard work form incredible bonds with colleagues and clients that you just can't possibly establish in an office setting and the experience of being back in an operational role has definitely made me a better manager.
7. HOW DO YOU STAY ENGAGED WITH YOUR COMMUNITY?
In terms of my industry community, it is maintaining relationships, being part of professional organizations, attending conferences, and staying on top of new policy. It is also incredibly important for me to be involved in the community in which I live, South Florida. I stay up to date on the work of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact. Even though I don't currently work with any of the agencies focused on resilience in my own community I am incredibly interested in the ways I can relate the type of work I do to how I live. In addition, I am a member of the Community Leadership Board for the South Florida Chapter of the American Diabetes Association and beginning work with an advisory committee to develop an Emergency Management Certificate program with a local College.
3. WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER TO BE A ROADBLOCK FOR WOMEN IN THE INDUSTRY?
I have five nieces and nephews and of all the roles I get to play in my life, my absolute favorite is being their Tia.
It can be common after a disaster to put in very long hours and work many days without time off and in an environment where women are largely responsible for family and childcare it can be very difficult to put in that kind of time when called upon without the appropriate resources for support. Because of some of these hurdles I also think we tend to see an industry that has been historically more male-dominated and it can be challenging for young women coming up to find role models and mentors that they can identify with and who have shared their experience as women in emergency management.
9. ANY TIPS FOR WORK/LIFE BALANCE?
For me it's taking care of myself and recognizing that I can't give what others need from me if I am burned out. Working in emergency management can be challenging and draining at times. It can be hard in the midst of an emergency to feel like you can take any time at all for your own self-care, but over the years I have learned that a 30 minute jog, 10 minutes to meditate or even just 2 minutes of deep breathing can really reset my mood and allow me to bring more of myself to support the situation at hand.
4. SHARE A HOT TOPIC OR TREND IN YOUR FIELD!
For me, right now, it is all about resilience. I focused for 15 years on post-disaster programs and the funding that was available to help communities recover, but as we experience an increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters I have become very interested in how we can do more to make our communities more resilient to disaster in the first place.
10. SHARE YOUR BEST CAREER ADVICE.
You don't have to love your job every single day, but you should like it most of the time. Don't be afraid to make a change when something is not working for you.