Andrea Forte (Director of the Central Texas Disaster Action Response Team)
Emergency Management as a Career
As part of our campaign for National Preparedness Month 2021, we engaged subject-matter experts in the field of emergency management to have them weigh in on a few key areas. Our goal is to support increased visibility of EM as a profession (#MakeEMMoreVisible), not only for those who may be studying it at UIC, but also for those who may be considering entering the field.
Tell us about yourself: My name is Andrea Forte. I am the Director of the Central Texas Disaster Action Response Team based out of Killeen, TX. I have been in emergency management since 2011 where I was dropped into the field during the Souris River Flood in Minot, ND. During that “sink or swim” time I acted as liaison between Ward County (ND) emergency management, the 5th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, military housing, and in-bound military families. My prior service commitment helped to translate the chaos of evacuating families from the cascading water into moth-balled housing and coordinating stop movement orders for families enroute to Minot AFB. After my husband retired we returned to Fort Hood where I helped develop the nonprofit I lead. Currently the nonprofit acts as the overarching VOAD for seven counties in Central Texas working alongside city and county OEMs. During local emergencies and disaster I often fulfill the Planning Section Chief role in our EOC. Additionally, I teach many G level courses throughout the State of Texas and Oklahoma. I am an instructor for the National Emergency Management Basic Academy (along with being a graduate of both NEMBA and NEMAA).
What do you consider essential skillsets for EM? The most essential skillset is the ability to network. No EM knows everything they need for all emergencies/disasters. Having a vast network of professionals, subject-matter-experts, and volunteers with unique skillsets will make for a well-rounded EMC.
Can you recommend suggested training / credentials? I did my NEMAA paper on this topic. Unfortunately, there is little standardization to the training/credentialling of EMCs. I highly recommend the Academies. These help to develop the overall person. I do not recommend the CEM process but understand many find value in it. Each EM must find their strength in the field. Many small EMAs require staff to be jacks-of-all-trade while larger ones can specialize their personnel. Find your passion in emergency management!
What do we do? Why do we do it? Why is it important? The CERT motto is the best answer for this question: Do the greatest good for the greatest number of people. We work to mitigate the worst, prepare for chaos, coordinate resources for response, and find a way to recover as quickly/best as possible. It is important to do this and to help community members understand how they can help themselves in the face of adversity.
What makes your job unique and enjoyable? As a Voluntary Agency Liaison (VAL), I love working with multiple emergency management agencies and jurisdictions. Fort Hood is one of the more interesting partnerships where I enjoy the translation between DoD terminology and EM terminology.
What are your “go-to” publications in the field? I wish there was more time to read, but in the field there is rarely time to do more. At minimum go read the Strategic Plan! What does it say, have we fulfilled the vision, and what should we focus on in the next four years? Don’t underestimate the value of AARs.
What do you consider the most valuable resource on your bookshelf? One book I keep on my shelf is Social Vulnerability to Disasters by Brenda Phillips, Deborah Thomas, Alice Fothergill, and Lynn Blinn-Pike. However, just recently I read a NEMAA paper by Michael Reinhardt (TN) entitled “The Importance of Planning for Disabilities, Access, and Functional Needs (DAFN) Prior To Disaster”. This is extremely valuable for all EMCs to read.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in EM? Leadership is different than management. Good leadership is invaluable.
How did you learn it? I’ve seen examples of both good and bad leadership in military, civilian, private, and public sectors. Bad leadership is ineffective, inefficient, and creates distrust. Help build up good leadership so that your agency can weather the storms.
What’s the one piece of advice you wish you had gotten when you were starting out? Nothing in books, papers, or plans prepare you for real world incidents.
What should every new EM practitioner do / focus on / remember?
- Do not compare yourself to the next EM. Your skills and training will differ. Learn from one another and lean on eachother for support.
- Focus on what your jurisdiction needs.
- Remember that politics always play a part in your job. You cannot escape it. Work within your limits and abilities.
If someone wanted to follow in your footsteps, what steps should they take? I have a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration: Organizational Leadership. If you follow in my footsteps you will find it a long and winding path with little pay. You don’t have to have a degree in Emergency Management to work in this field. You don’t have to have a degree unless the jurisdiction/agency requires it. Volunteer, learn ICS, find a passion in the field then pursue it.
What message would you like to convey to the EM community as a whole? The EM Community has failed the D/deaf Community. This is a long-term failure with long lasting ramifications. I am a “late” deaf EM practitioner who “got along” well enough by lipreading. It is a natural habit of the hearing community to either speak louder, exaggerate facial expressions, expect closed captioning to be sufficient, or assume all D/deaf utilize sign language. All three of these are frustrations we face working with colleagues in the EM field. There are those, like myself, who did not learn sign language until forced to due to generational negativity. Additionally, sign language is difficult as there are regional dialects and different syntaxes. Closed captioning on pre-recorded videos are generally good. Unfortunately, live closed captions are often wrong or highly inappropriate. Speaking louder and exaggerating facial expressions make lipreading impossible. Lipreading has other challenges, but that is for a longer conversation. The D/deaf community has always been on the fringe in a disaster. Most EMs remember to prepare for functional needs support but forget access needs support. Go meet and engage your D/deaf community to find out how they want information communicated. Use multiple options: high-def video, closed captions, interpreters, written visual aids, etc.
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