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More women are leading emergency response, but FEMA says there’s ‘a long way to go’

ORLANDO, Fla. – The voices communicating the urgency of an impending hurricane and making critical decisions for their community in the aftermath are becoming more diverse. However, there is still a long way to go.

This week at the 2022 National Hurricane Conference in Orlando, Florida, a packed conference room listened to a panel of national emergency management industry leaders, and the most senior official of Florida Emergency Management described the progress and barriers to creating a more diverse emergency response field.

National statistics from show that only about 11.7% of emergency management directors are people of color. More than 62% of emergency management directors are male and 71% are white.

For the first time, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency is a woman. Deanne Criswell became FEMA’s 12th Administrator in April 2021. Criswell is the first woman to hold the Senate-confirmed position, however, Nancy Ward also led the agency during the Obama administration’s first months as a interim administrator.

“We have a long way to go,” Criswell told FOX Weather. “We have increased diversity within our leadership team when it comes to gender diversity, but we still have a long way to go when it comes to cultural diversity. But we are working on it. »

When FEMA responds to an emergency, it has a local recruitment program that hires people from the directly affected community.

“It’s giving back to the community, and we’re investing in that community, but they also understand their community, they understand their needs,” Criswell said. “They can help us ensure that we provide our services in a way that meets the needs of these communities.

Eve Rainey, an emergency management consultant, has over 30 years of experience in the field and is executive director of the Florida Emergency Preparedness Association.

The Cajun Navy helps people following a tornado.
The Cajun Navy helps people following a tornado.
Stacy Parker/Marine Cajun

“It took a long time to get there,” Rainey said of FEMA’s first female director. “Now we are at the table. Now we are here.”

Having found nothing else, Brittany Perkins Castillo, CEO of emergency management company AshBritt, launched a website and the WTFem group for women in emergency management, public works and waste management. . The group offers mentorship, training and other resources to help underrepresented groups in emergency management.

Rainey also agreed with other panel members that the emergency response industry has moved forward.

“I’ve been very lucky to be with the business as the business has evolved,” Rainey said. “When I walked in, there was also a bit of a chasm between all of those who were ex-military and predominantly male, and white males, and then people out of college who fell into emergency management or have found emergency management.”

Panelists from Massachusetts, Virginia and Florida spoke about what they are doing within their departments or private companies to encourage a more diverse emergency response workforce.

Virginia Department of Emergency Management Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Sable K. Nelson Dyer said improving emergency response is about using your own lived experiences to serve a community, whatever your background.

“It’s really important for us that we develop a situation where we call people instead of calling people, and I think it’s important for us to understand that we just have our own way.”

A FEMA-funded free testing site in Tucson, Arizona.
A FEMA-funded free testing site in Tucson, Arizona.
Rebecca Sasnett/Arizona Daily Star/AP

According to Data USA, female emergency management directors earn an average of $15,000 less than their male counterparts. Panelists said this could result in the loss of extraordinary women who could benefit a municipality or agency.

Dawn Brantley, acting director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, said more recently that there has been a shift in the industry for the better. This is partly because managers seek out talent and encourage growth.

“Searching and finding the people who have the capacity and then supporting them, however you can, is absolutely critical,” Brantley said. “I worked in an environment where that wasn’t the case for women, but it was definitely the case for men. And it’s discouraging. It even discourages women from speaking out or trying to apply for internal leadership positions.

Women who spoke at the session described being underpaid, undervalued and often challenged on the pitch.

Cajun Navy director of operations Stacy Parker described being in the field and asking someone to turn to her male colleagues for answers, but was told she was responsible.

“I’ve been really grateful to have men in our organization who respect me and the women in our organization. So if they see that happening, they redirect… they’re really good at saying, “That’s who you need to talk to,” Parker said.

Parker says men who recognize the need for diversity are equally important to the evolution of the industry.

The Cajun Navy often travels to remote locations that are less likely to receive immediate aid or media attention after a natural disaster. This requires the nonprofit to be more intentional with its employees and volunteers.

“I think we need to specifically say, ‘How many women do we have on our team? How many people of color do we have on our team? How old are our team members? What is their background? Where are they from? they?” Parker explained. “We may have a great team, but if we see that there’s not a lot of diversity, we should be intentional and say, I’m going to pursue this.

The inclusion of more cultures and languages ​​must also happen before the storm. More than half of the population served by the NHC speaks Spanish, according to National Hurricane Center director Ken Graham.

During the last hurricane season, Graham said the NHC created a culturally specific preparedness campaign to focus on the Hispanic community.

“We’re going to continue down this path so we can expand this to more communities,” Graham said. “We want to talk about how they want to hear it, how they’re going to understand it, how they’re going to interpret the information so they can take the steps they need to prepare.”

The NHC is building a new area in downtown Miami to accommodate Spanish media.

New York Post

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