Member Spotlight: Lorraine Schneider
August 13, 2019

Lorraine Schneider is a Pacific Council member and an emergency manager with experience in preparedness, response, and recovery. She currently serves as a training specialist with UCLA’s Office of Emergency Management, where she has developed, facilitated, and implemented training programs on campus. Schneider is also the co-founder of KASSL Emergency Management Consulting, which specializes in training and emergency planning. 

For two years, Schneider served as an inaugural board member of Women in Homeland Security - Southern California, a non-profit organization for women in Southern California’s homeland security community. Schneider is also currently part of UNICEF’s congressional action team, which educates members of Congress about the organization’s work around the world. 

Schneider recently spoke with Pacific Council Communications Junior Fellow Nicole Burnett about her work, how emergency management has grown as a field over the past two decades, and which global issues impact preparedness around the world.  

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Pacific Council: For those of us who are unfamiliar, can you tell us a bit about the field of emergency management? 

Lorraine Schneider: Emergency preparedness and management is a very obscure field that only started out pretty recently, actually after 9/11 with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. 9/11 really propelled emergency management into existence here in the United States—now, it’s really becoming its own, standardized field where you have more and more educational programs and degrees available to you.

Much of the public only sees the law enforcement and the firefighting side of emergency management because those are the first responders you see on the scene. But rarely do they get to see the people working in the background within the city, or the county, or the state, or even within an organization who coordinate emergency planning throughout the whole year and then respond to disasters that happen.

You have worked with a number of different institutions to coordinate emergency planning, including co-founding your firm, KASSL Emergency Management Consulting. Who are the key stakeholders that people in your field work with?

My primary day-to-day job is at UCLA, where I work as the emergency management training specialist. So there my responsibility is to train as many as the 85,000 staff, faculty, and students that we have on campus as possible so they know what to do ahead of time when there is an earthquake, a wildfire, an active shooter, a hazardous materials spill, or any kind of emergency.

At the consulting firm I own with a couple colleagues, we work with local jurisdictions from around Southern California—for example, we have worked with the city of Long Beach and the city of Glendale. With the city of Long Beach, we have conducted trainings for their Emergency Operations Center responders. An Emergency Operations Center is a physical location activated when an emergency is taking place, and where people who either work for the organization (UCLA, for example) or for the city come together and share expertise on how to respond to a particular incident.

The recent earthquakes kind of woke people up. What we talk about a lot in our field is, how can we ensure that people do not wait for something bad to happen to start thinking about how they can be prepared?

So a lot of what we do is train people at these centers, who may include people from the Department of Water and Power or Parks and Recreation who would be managing shelters, law enforcement, the Transportation Department in case of evacuation, and non-profit organizations like the Red Cross that set up shelters.

We also help develop plans for communities, including Local Hazard Mitigation Plans (LHMPs) that require a close relationship with community members—what we do here is we analyze the biggest hazards that the city is prone to, what the response can look like, and what we can do to minimize the effects of a disaster.

How do global issues and trends impact the field of emergency preparedness and management?

Climate change is a big one because it affects us worldwide and all of us have to prepare for it. We as emergency managers work closely with resilience officers and focus on rising sea levels, for example. We ask questions such as, how do we work with communities and community members who, let’s say, live in Malibu and may see their ability to live there be impacted over the next 50 years by a rise in sea levels? So that is definitely a global issue. Also, the refugee crisis in Europe has really prompted a lot of disaster response and emergency procedure needs in countries like Germany, France, and Italy.

Here in the United States, emergency preparedness and management is a very standardized field across the entire country where we all follow one system, called the Incident Command System. But if you go beyond that, let’s say if you go to Europe, every country has its own way of doing things because each country has a different system for law enforcement and emergency response. So the field is not as standardized on a global scale. 

What emergency preparedness needs are specific to Southern California?

The recent earthquakes kind of woke people up. That’s definitely a big thing that we plan for, whether it’s the Big One or smaller earthquakes that could happen on any other fault. We have over 300 faults in the state of California that can lead to a 6.0 magnitude or greater earthquake, so there are a lot of ways we could experience earthquakes in this state. And now because we have such densely populated cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco and the entire Bay Area, the aftermath will be much different than it even was 25 years ago when we experienced the last major earthquake. 

Another issue that has been significant for us, especially in recent years, has been wildfires. The key, again, is working with communities. The best way we can prepare is by training our local community members because a disaster, by definition, means that there are not going to be enough first responders to respond to all of the needs that are present during an emergency. That is why we have to be self-sufficient if we live here.

A lot of what we do as emergency managers is we look at different disasters that have happened both here and elsewhere in the world and see what the “lessons learned” are—what went well in the response, what did not go well, and how can we improve upon that.

There are a lot of programs for that—one that is quite well-known is the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program which trains community members for free on how to take care of themselves and their families after a disaster. It also gives them the option of joining their local neighborhood or organizational CERT team that can be deployed to assist in search and rescue operations, medical triage, and so on after a disaster hits. 

Another important consideration is how we build our cities. Working with urban planners is going to be really key—how can we build the best possible cities and developments that are going to be as safe as possible in a disaster?

Have the recent earthquakes in California influenced the current conversation around emergency preparedness and natural disasters? Are there any misconceptions popular amongst the general public?

It is a very common occurrence in disaster preparedness to see a spike in the public’s level of interest after an incident happens. Right now, as a training specialist, my requests for trainings have increased tenfold since the earthquakes. In 2016, we had a shooting on campus, and our active shooter response training increased exponentially.

What we talk about a lot in our field is, how can we ensure that people do not wait for something bad to happen to start thinking about how they can be prepared? How can we make it accessible? Because it is a misconception that either you cannot do anything about it or that it is hard to do something about it. This is just not true—where you decide to buy or build a house, how you decide to secure furniture at home, and what you decide to do when an earthquake is actually happening are all things that can be prepared for ahead of time. You are only going to be as prepared as you are right at that moment. 

What prompted you to serve on the inaugural board of Women in Homeland Security – Southern California?

Women in Homeland Security – Southern California is a non-profit organization created to provide a platform for women who work across the field of homeland security, including law enforcement, firefighters, emergency managers, military personnel, and members of the intelligence community. Women in all of these groups can come together and have the opportunity to share their experiences in this male-dominated industry.

Most of what we do is hold luncheons every few months where we invite speakers who are women with incredible accomplishments and careers to come in and talk about their jobs and how they have navigated their path to where they are today. We are also looking into launching a mentorship program to promote the next generation of homeland security personnel. Women in Homeland Security – Southern California is essentially a platform for women across the field of homeland security who live in Southern California to come together, learn from one another, and help each other out.

What has been your experience with the Pacific Council been so far? Do you think it is valuable for you and your peers to get involved?

Yes, I think it definitely is important and the value I see in it right now is that, even though I currently work on a more local level, I wish to work on a more global scale later on in my career. And when we talk about disaster response, there are a lot of organizations based here in the United States that do disaster response worldwide, so that to me is a very interesting pathway. I really love going to Pacific Council events that feature people who have been working in the humanitarian aid field or even in warzones, because a lot of what happens there comes through in emergency management and disaster management.

It is also interesting to learn from other countries and how they respond to disasters. A lot of what we do as emergency managers is we look at different disasters that have happened both here and elsewhere in the world and see what the “lessons learned” are—what went well in the response, what did not go well, and how can we improve upon that.

Getting together with a group of like-minded individuals who work in the same field and identifying what the gaps are, identifying what resources are available, which ones are not, and then going from there are important first steps.

For example, the CERT program, which is now a huge program in the United States, was founded by the Los Angeles Fire Department in the 1980s after they traveled to Mexico City after the large earthquake in 1985. So I think the benefit of seeing what is happening in other countries and for us to exchange ideas and lessons learned is important so that we all can become better at what we do.

Do you have any advice for others looking to start their own business or launch a new advocacy group?

My advice would be to see who your partners are around the region and talk with them. The reason Women in Homeland Security was founded is because women who kept going to the same type of conferences dominated by male speakers saw that we did not have a platform for us. So just getting together with a group of like-minded individuals who work in the same field and identifying what the gaps are, identifying what resources are available, which ones are not, and then going from there are important first steps. 

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Get in touch with Lorraine if you’re interested in learning more about her work by emailing us at engage@pacificcouncil.org.

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