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  • Writer's pictureAlison Monette

Danielle - Roadmap to FEMA (Emergency Response)

What do you do for a Living?

I am an Emergency Manager for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and I serve as the Continuous Improvement Advisor for FEMA Region V's COVID-19 Regional Response. I am also a state of Illinois Licensed Paramedic (EMT-P).

What does a normal day look like?

I'm primarily focused on the Federal response to COVID -19 for our states, tribes, residents, stakeholders and community. My day starts with two briefings in the morning related to any crisis or disaster that has occurred within the 6 Midwest states I cover: IL, IN, MI, MN, OH, WI. Crises are usually weather driven: wildfires, flooding, tornados, and/or hurricanes. One morning situational briefing is related to updates of what has happened over the past 24 hours and the other briefing is with officials from the state, stakeholders, community partners, liaisons and command staff to communicate their needs and priorities. Based on this information, I spend the rest of my day interviewing staff, analyzing data and determining what our agency can do to respond. I look at what we've done, what was done well, lessons learned, and areas for improvement. From this information I can determine trends, document best practices and collaborate with working groups to determine next steps. I am always on call and can be deployed anywhere in the US if I am needed to respond to a disaster.

What path did you take to get here?

When I was a senior in high school, I witnessed a car crash where 2 black women paramedics arrived at the scene, took control and saved someone’s life. I was amazed. That was the first time I had seen women of color in that type of role ... not even on TV had I seen this representation. So I decided I wanted to be a paramedic. Everyone tried to talk me out of it (including my mother) but they were not paramedics, so I decided not to listen to them.

I trained to become an Emergency Medical Technician - Basic EMT-B at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park, IL. It was hard because I was a young, single mom. Later I went to paramedic school for my EMT-P. I attended Loyola Hospital in Maywood and was the first African-American to graduate from their paramedic program. I met my husband Marco there. We were both young, single parents trying to make a difference in the world.

I began my career in emergency medical services in the private ambulance industry. I earned the outstanding emergency medical technician award while

working at Cook County Hospital's emergency room. In 2004, I joined the Chicago Fire Department where I received the outstanding candidate and community commitment award. While at CFD, my specialty details included the Segway and bike response team for the Dalai Lama and the 43rd president of the United States. These positions provided local level experience, but I knew I wanted to understand all of the levels of Emergency Medical Services and Emergency Management.

Seeing a critical need for bystanders to be able to do CPR before paramedics arrive, I began training clients at IKEA, Fifth Third Bank, and Shell Oil in CPR and First Aid. In 2009, I became the first paramedic spokesperson for the American Heart Association and was featured in the "Hands of Time" documentary. I am a public information officer and an emergency preparedness media consultant who has been featured on over twenty media outlets, including live TV segments on Access Hollywood and Fox News.

I decided to return to school for my Bachelor's Degree, during which I took several internships and worked full-time while juggling family life. The internships included Cook County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, FEMA and a term of Service with Red Cross AmeriCorps, giving me a foot in the door in applying for a federal position.

In 2016 I joined FEMA and spent two months in Texas supporting the flood response. In 2017 I assisted Hurricane Maria evacuees in Chicago at the Multiagency Agency Response Center. My disaster deployments include Hurricane Maria, Irma, Harvey, and Illinois and Louisiana Severe Storms. Now I'm working on the COVID-19 Regional Response.

What are the biggest challenges of your job?

1. Having to be in multiple places at the same time ... sometimes I wish I had a clone.

2. Being in public service. I love doing what I do but as an emergency manager I'm constantly giving of myself as a public servant. Non-stop giving can be draining.

What are the greatest blessings of your job?

1. Being able to provide the community with resources in times of crisis.

2. Being able to change policy – I’m able to identify needs and change policy for people who may not have a voice.

What 3 characteristics do you need to possess or develop to be able to do your job well?

1. Be selfless

2. Be able to deploy and leave your family at any time in the event of a disaster

3. Have thick skin

What are 3 concrete things you’d tell someone on their journey to doing your job?

1. Don’t listen to or take advice from people who have not done what you want do.

2. Find a mentor.

3. Be relentless in achieving your goal, even if the journey doesn’t look like you thought it would look. Never give up, even if it takes longer than you planned, and you will get there.

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