Currently based in Washington D.C. as a Situation Unit Leader with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Kathryn Hisek recently spent nearly two months deployed in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to assist with the relief efforts for Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
“I had just started my new job when I deployed to Puerto Rico. I was only a couple of weeks into it, and it was like drinking from a fire hose,” Hisek said. “But I’m very excited. I’m very lucky to be able to do a job that I love.”
Hisek came to the Clinton School with more than her share of disaster response and recovery experience. After earning her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Central Arkansas, she spent a year in AmeriCorps that took her to disaster response situations on the East Coast (Hurricane Sandy) and the Midwest (Oklahoma City Tornados).
Having worked with FEMA since July 2016, she was previously based in Oakland, Calif., and deployed as a Situation Unit Leader to places such as Honolulu, Hawaii, for Hurricanes Madeline and Lester and Carson City, Nev., for response and recovery to winter storms and flooding.
Her recent stint in Puerto Rico offered her the chance to work with her mother, who lives in Hot Springs and deploys with the USDA Forest Service. The El Yunque Forest was heavily affected by the hurricanes, and brought many Forest Service responders to Puerto Rico, as well.
What does your public service interest of disaster relief stem from?
I think it probably started with Hurricane Katrina. I’m from Hot Springs, and we received a few survivors that left New Orleans into our community. Most of the evacuees were minors, whose parents sent them away so that they could recover from the disaster back home. I think that seeing how communities came together after a disaster was a factor in my interest.
Then, when I had the chance to do AmeriCorps after I graduated from college, it was through a partnership with FEMA. I got to actually respond to some disasters, including Hurricane Sandy and the Oklahoma City Tornados. I think that was probably what cemented it, my AmeriCorps year.
Definitely. I knew it after my AmeriCorps year was up at the end of 2013. But I wanted to also look into working in recovery and preparedness. After that, I worked with the Red Cross in Houston, doing some preparedness work but mainly in the house fire response program. I also interned with the Red Cross during my final semester at the Clinton School working on an evacuation plan for an earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone.
I had heard of the Clinton School, because I went to UCA, and a few of my classmates at the time had gone to grad school there, but I think it kind of got back on my radar when I was looking at grad schools that would match the AmeriCorps education grant that we received. The Clinton School was one of them. I looked into the field research component and was excited about the amount of time I could spend in the field. I knew that I could really find a worthwhile project internationally that I could focus on and receive more disaster recovery experience.
Was your experience in the Philippines your IPSP?
I was able to combine my IPSP and Capstone, and spent about seven months in The Philippines. I was working with a Philippines-based international organization, Children and Family Services International, (CFSI). At that point it was around a year and half after Typhoon Haiyan hit and many communities were still recovering.
I was able to complete a program evaluation on CFSI’s livelihood recovery program. I was able to use many of the great skills we learned in Field Research Methods and Data Analysis.
What is your new job?
I worked with FEMA directly out of the Clinton School. My job at the time was on a regional Incident Management Assistance Team in California. Basically, if a disaster occured in California, Arizona, Nevada, or Hawaii, my team would deploy immediately and set up the initial disaster operations structure. My new job that I just started in October of 2017 is the same position, but I live in D.C., and can respond to any disaster in the country now. I’m on a national team.
My specific position is the Situation Unit Leader, which means that it’s my job to track the current situation, collect information, manage the information, analyze it, and push the information to leadership so they can make decisions on what the next steps are for the disaster operations.
I definitely want this to be my career path. As of right now, I’ve only worked in response with FEMA. Being in D.C., I will be able to explore more of the other programs FEMA has to offer.
I’m not sure what five years from now looks like, but it’s definitely going to be with FEMA.