10 Qs with Arianne Thomas
FEMA R6 Hurricane Program Manager, Denton, TX
6. HAVE YOU READ A RECENT ARTICLE OR BOOK THAT INSPIRED YOU?
1. HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN THE INDUSTRY?
I am a native of New Orleans, LA and my personal experiences with hurricane evacuations molded my passion for meteorology and emergency management at a young age. My experience in emergency management at the local, state, and federal level spans over 15 years. I began my career at the East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, where I served during response operations for Hurricane Katrina in 2005. As a young, ambitious 21-year-old student at LSU in her senior year, Katrina stole my innocence. I learned that if I continued down this path, I would be subjected to long hours in response operations, but the disaster could be in my backyard, and I may not have a home to return to. That idea of being both a responder and survivor fueled my determination to make a difference. I advanced to the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, where I served in numerous positions including State Hurricane Program Manager. During my tenure at GOHSEP, I served on special projects and responded to several events, including Hurricane Isaac. In late 2014, I joined FEMA Region 6 and served in Response Operations for several activations and disasters, including Hurricanes Matthew and Harvey. I also served on special projects, including the Hurricane Matthew NOAA Assessment Team in 2016. Joyfully, I returned to the National Hurricane Program as the Regional Hurricane Program Manager for Region 6 in 2019. I am responsible for delivering products, training, and technical support to state and local officials to prepare for and respond to tropical cyclones. I oversee the Hurricane Evacuation Studies, a vital deliverable of the program used for evacuation planning and guidance for the Region 6 states that are at risk to tropical weather, Louisiana, and Texas. I also serve as a member of FEMA’s Hurricane Liaison Team (HLT), providing vital hurricane forecast information to the emergency management community to help steer response operations. I am living my dream!
Recently I read “Over It: How to Face Life’s Hurdle with Grit, Hustle, and Grace” by Olympian, Lolo Jones. She was favored to win the 100-meter hurdles at the 2008 Olympics. She had the lead and was so very close to winning the gold but hit the second to last hurdle, fell, and finished in seventh place. Although she’s appeared in three different Olympics, she’s most known for this race. I found Lolo to be incredibly honest, open, and real about her life. She’s a great storyteller and spoke perfectly about adversity, failure, and most importantly resilience. She quoted many gems in this book, but one that I love was: “Success isn’t always defined by a goal achieved. It is truly defined by how we handle failure and disappointment while pursuing our goals."
7. HOW DO YOU STAY ENGAGED WITH YOUR COMMUNITY?
I used to spend a lot of time volunteering through organizations like Big Buddy and the LSU Disaster Science Management Association (student led) back home in Louisiana. I have also participated in the Junior League in my regional area here in Texas. Between the pandemic and life in general, I haven’t had as much time to dedicate to the community these past few years, however, one of my goals in 2022 is to seek more networking occasions within the EM community to create those outreach opportunities. I am currently a part of the American Meteorological Society Committee on Emergency Management and have participated in symposiums geared towards students who are interested in a career in emergency management. I also plan to volunteer my time towards HERicane, a program implemented by the Institute for Diversity and Inclusion in Emergency Management (I-DIEM) that provides women a means to explore a career in Emergency Management. And of course, participating in opportunities like 10 Qs allows me the chance to tell my story and reach so many!
8. WHAT’S A FUN FACT ABOUT YOU THAT PEOPLE MIGHT NOT KNOW?
2. WHAT PROJECT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
Although I’m extremely proud of my professional career in Emergency Management, I’ve held other titles; one is “Singer.” While working towards my dream job, I used my talents to create an illustrious supplemental career in music and was the lead singer of the cover band, U4ria for over 6 years before moving to Texas. You can still find videos of me jamming with my “brothers in music” all over the internet; I even travel back on occasion to perform with them. I also had a short career as a solo artist and filmed my first music video back in 2009. Being in music was an incredible experience, but the best title I hold is “Mom.” I am a wife and mother of a 15-year-old high school Varsity soccer freshmen and a dog mom of two.
During my GOHSEP days as the State Hurricane Program Manager, I was tasked with managing the Southeastern Louisiana Hurricane Evacuation Study (HES). During this time, the FEMA Regional Hurricane Program Manager position became vacant due to retirement. Successfully conducting a “kick-off” meeting without federal support, or essentially acting as both state and federal was a huge mission. While I was supposed to be the client (as the state), I had to act in a federal role while learning the HES process from the federal side. Sure, I could have waited for the position to be filled, but the reality was that it would take over a year to fill it and I did not want to lose the time already dedicated to the HES, which could have resulted in losing credibility in the eyes of the parishes I worked hard to “buy into” this study. In the end, the experience I gained by dually working the HES process in a state and federal capacity undoubtably prepared me for the future, which is being the Regional Hurricane Program Manager today. P.S. the Southeastern Louisiana HES was a complete success!
9. ANY TIPS FOR WORK/LIFE BALANCE?
Find it! In my opinion, it’s a true requirement for your mental, emotional, and physical health. I feel most at peace and centered when I actively make time for myself: a quick walk, a workout, getting lost in a book, or even my indulgence in catty reality tv!
3. WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER TO BE A ROADBLOCK FOR WOMEN IN THE INDUSTRY?
10. SHARE YOUR BEST CAREER ADVICE.
Find something that you are passionate about. Work can be just work, or it can be something that you love; it’s completely your choice.
That is truly a loaded question because I believe there are so many facets to why there is even a roadblock to begin with. The EM world is relatively new, having emerged from under civil defense so there was a lag in time for true exposure and interest in such a career; marry that with the fact that the EM world has also been male dominated and it’s easy to see the roadblock. Societal gender norms create a lack of visibility or access on both sides of the coin: not enough women truly have access to the EM world and all it offers, and the EM world doesn’t always have visibility of women interested in EM. This country has made great strides towards gender equality in certain spaces, while maintaining a snail’s crawl in others. However, more and more women are finding their way into the EM world, and it’s an exciting thing to witness!
4. SHARE A HOT TOPIC OR TREND IN YOUR FIELD!
FEMA Region 6 recently formed the Diversity Working Group (DWG), under the Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee (EDIC). The purpose of the working group is to foster constructive dialogue on the region’s diversity policies and procedures, ensuring that equity is at the forefront of the region’s business areas. The goal is to create an inclusive culture of respect and support that doesn’t just cover race and gender, but also looks at life experience, ability and disability, personality, and other factors. I am one of the 18 founding members who have volunteered to assist with this goal, and I’m eager to participate in this team effort. One of the initiatives that I am very excited about is the formation of the Region 6 Diversity Recruitment Council (DRC). The focus of this group is to engage with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) as well as underrepresented communities to promote interest in pursuing a career in Emergency Management. While the DRC is in its infancy, I am confident that we will be successful at bringing awareness and interest to this great field of Emergency Management.
5. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE GETTING THEIR START IN THE FIELD?
BE A SPONGE! Take it all in and be open to all opportunities made available to you. If you already know exactly where you want to land in the EM world, make sure you are getting the experience required for your chosen career path. Too often we get caught up in the race for the perfect salary and lose our vision for our profession and where we ultimately want to be. Not all valuable experience is paid; a lot of experience also comes from volunteering at your local CERT or even the FEMA CORPs, so be sure to investigate these opportunities as well. Stay up to date on your training and find a mentor that can guide you along the way.