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Weathering the Storm

FEMA Corps students

Janessa (front right) and the Summit 2 team hold their diplomas from the FEMA Corps program on graduation day, Nov. 15, 2017, in Houston, Texas.

Public health alumna helps save lives during catastrophic hurricane season

by Lily Wolfe (’18)

Janessa Ilada (’16) was hooked on educating and engaging communities after graduating from Westminster with a degree in public health. Looking for a longer-term project, Janessa was drawn to FEMA Corps based on its work with emergency management—something she felt aligned with public health, but that she knew nothing about.

“What I really enjoyed about public health at Westminster was learning about important topics and then sharing that information,” Janessa says.

Officially called AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) FEMA Corps, FEMA Corps is a branch of AmeriCorps that partners with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to strengthen the federal government’s disaster preparedness and response. During the 10-month program, Janessa and her team specialized in planning preparedness programs and disaster-survivor assistance, with the expectation that they would work on at least one disaster. In Janessa’s case, she worked on hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

Janessa’s first rotation was spent near Boston, where she did everything from completing service projects to monitoring social media during a National Security Event, also known as the Boston Marathon. Her team also went to FEMA headquarters in Washington, DC, to provide disaster preparedness training. Janessa orchestrated scenarios that might occur so personnel were prepared to respond at the scene of an actual disaster.

Throughout the program, Janessa acted as the team’s media representative, writing press releases at each new project to inform the surrounding community of the group’s presence. “I like the communications side—being able to reach out to the public and educate,” Janessa says. In addition to managing social media accounts, Janessa was the point person for internal and external communications.

Her role as media representative translated to being responsible for the weekly newsletter sent to all volunteers, detailing their work and impact on communities. “It was a lot of hard work, but I loved meeting and gathering stories about the amazing volunteers,” Janessa says.

For its final assignment, Janessa’s team went to Orlando, Florida, to work with the Department of Homeland Security Surge Capacity Force, a cadre of federal employees volunteering to help affected communities by supporting FEMA’s urgent response and recovery efforts. Calling on all federal agencies, her team sent out thousands of deployment notes helping volunteers find their assignments and tracking how many volunteers were in each location. “We were the framework, assessing what was out in the field in terms of personnel and supplies, and determining what to do next,” Janessa says.

Now that her time as a member of FEMA Corps is over, Janessa hopes to continue saving lives through a career with a federal or state emergency management agency. “I enjoy working with people and training citizens and government personnel in what to do when a disaster strikes,” she says.



About the Westminster Review

The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.