Preparing for Disaster

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Senior Hannah Eboh, a geography major and graphic design minor, recently completed a three-month internship at Region V of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Region V is based in Chicago and covers Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. Later this year, Eboh will begin a graduate program in geography at Northern Illinois University. In the interview below, she recounts highlights of her experience with FEMA.  

What were your primary responsibilities at FEMA?
My main responsibility at FEMA was to update the Threat and Hazards Identification and Resource Assessment (THIRA) document with fiscal year 2015 data. At 161 pages, it was a substantial undertaking, and the process spanned the course of my internship.

I was also able to participate in many other FEMA opportunities. I learned about the agency during conference calls with the FBI and after-action calls following emergency situations. Additionally, I met with employees across many divisions of FEMA, including Mitigation, Grants and Funding; the Watch Center, where developing stories and weather conditions are monitored; and the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) division, which was mapping flood plains in preparation for spring.

Hannah Eboh

Hannah Eboh with her internship supervisor, Vince Parisi, FEMA’s regional preparedness officer.

Tell us more about the THIRA project.
For the THIRA, all the FEMA major urban areas, recreational vehicle units and tribal governments must submit a Microsoft Excel file with four sections indicating identified threats to their region; context of the threats; developed outcomes, impacts and targets; and resources that would be needed in a worst-case scenario event.

For the most part, the first three sections only required minor updating. However, the fourth section was essentially raw data. I first sorted through aggregate data from all the jurisdictions and retained the highest values for each resource identified. Then I organized the data by its core capability, which, in essence, is what it will be used for, such as housing, fatality management, etc. It was also necessary to coordinate the jurisdiction with data supplied by subject matter experts and footnote where it came from.

This was rather complicated at times. In fact, I would say organizing the many footnotes was the most challenging aspect of my internship. For the THIRA, I also created tables to display the data graphically, worked to improve the overall organization and readability of the document, proofread, and printed and bound the final version to be sent for approval. Additionally, there was an electronic and less reader-friendly version of the data that I updated called the Unified Reporting Tool (URT). I found that the skills I learned as a graphic design minor significantly impacted my ability to complete these tasks.

What I am most proud of is my creation of an Excel document outlining a procedure that makes the three-month process feasible to complete in one day. I also made a demo for others to learn from when updating the THIRA in years to come.

What were some of your favorite aspects of the internship?
The best part of my internship was getting to know the employees who work for FEMA, both on personal and professional levels. Their work interests me greatly, and through observation and conversations with them, I was able get a better idea of what it’s like to be a federal employee. My supervisor, Vince Parisi, FEMA’s regional preparedness officer, even included me in meetings not directly related to my duties. For example, I attended a promotion ceremony for a member of the military, as well as an intergovernmental board meeting focused on increasing health awareness.

Additionally, I was encouraged to take online courses at the Emergency Management Institute, the flagship training center for government emergency management at all levels. I was able to take courses on GIS in emergency management, hurricane mitigation, tsunami mitigation, earthquake mitigation, flood mitigation, workplace violence and leadership. The online classes were a great resource.

Although the internship was not always easy, I was able to contribute and learned a lot. I know it will be a useful experience as I pursue my dreams of becoming a hazard geographer.

Read about a recent geography graduate who scored an internship on an active volcano

 

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