Meet the Pro: Raquel Vernola
Raquel Vernola is the Emergency Services Manager for the City of Norwalk, CA’s Office of Emergency Management. She began her career with the City of Norwalk in 1999 serving in the Department of Public Safety. As the Operations Lieutenant she was responsible for managing field operations and community safety programs. After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina that hit the Gulf States in 2005, the City of Norwalk assigned Raquel to assist in the development of the Norwalk Office of Emergency Management. In 2006 Raquel was promoted to Emergency Services Manager.
The priorities of the Norwalk Office of Emergency Management include maintaining Continuity of Government, meet and maintain Federal and State emergency management compliance, and to educate staff and community on self-reliance for all emergencies and disasters.
Raquel is responsible for the planning and development of Mitigation, Preparedness, Response and Recovery plans and programs; support and manage the City’s Emergency Operations Center; conduct and facilitate employee emergency and disaster training; and promote Community Disaster Education through special programs, training, and presentations. City of Norwalk’s Office of Emergency Management has received regional recognition and is considered a model for municipal emergency management.
Raquel’s dedication to Community self-reliance and personal preparedness led to the collaborative development of a regional Community Emergency Response team program known as Area E Regional CERT. Area E Regional CERT provides training and support to 25 cities located in the southeast area of Los Angeles County. Prior to the 2006 launch only 4 cities in the Area E region offered CERT to its community. Since then, Area E Regional CERT has 17 of 25 cities actively providing community life skills training to their community members. Raquel holds the responsibility of Chair person for the Area E Regional CERT program.
In addition, Raquel serves as the Executive Vice Chair for the Area E Disaster Management JPA. In August 2012, Raquel was appointed as acting Disaster Management Area Coordinator. As the acting Disaster Management Area Coordinator she provides guidance and assistance in emergency management matters for the 25 Area E Member Cities.
Raquel is currently a Board Member for the California Emergency Services Association Southern Section and Chairs both the Legislative Committee and the Mentoring Committee. Raquel is an appointed Member of the California CERT Committee and works closely with the Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management’s Citizen Corps programs. She is also an active member of California Fire Chief’s Emergency Management Section, the International Association of Emergency Managers, the National Emergency Managers Association and participates actively in several other strategic disaster planning committees.
Raquel Vernola’s dedication to community begins at home. She is married to Thomas Vernola, Sergeant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and is the proud mother to three adult children and a very energetic four year old. Having experienced a fair share of Earthquakes and other natural disasters as she grew up in Long Beach, California, Raquel’s desire to help others paired with her own experiences has led to her commitment to educate, motivate, and empower people to be survivors of disaster.
Raquel Vernola spoke recently with ProPac.
ProPac: How did you become interested in the field of Emergency Management?
Raquel: I have been involved in Public Service for many years. Prior to entering the profession of emergency management, I was an Operations Lieutenant for a Municipal Community Policing agency. After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, City Administrators realized that Disaster and Emergency Management were different than day to day emergency services and tasked me with developing the City’s Office of Emergency Management. This new assignment turned out to be the best place for me. Emergency Management brings together all of my interests under one roof. Emergency Management as a profession allows me to provide service to my community and to those in need, while being able to provide for my family and home.
ProPac: If you were not in the field of Emergency Management what would you be doing?
Raquel: If I had not been exposed to the depths of emergency management, I believe that I would have stayed in the field of Law Enforcement. However, I also have a strong interest in emergency medicine, so perhaps an ER Nurse.
ProPac: What are some of the work-related hurdles that you face on a day-to-day basis?
Raquel: The most often experienced hurdle is the public’s and other emergency response professions’ limited understanding of what emergency management is and why it’s important. Although I am very fortunate to work with a City Administration that is committed to Disaster and Emergency Management they to are not completely familiar how all encompassing emergency management is.
Limited understanding leads to uncertain expectations. Many public agencies assign emergency management as a collateral duty. This often finds the person assigned left to address the facets of Emergency Management on their own. The old cliché of “wearing many hats” is a fact versus an exaggeration. Doing a lot with a little is the day to day reality of an Emergency Manager.
ProPac: What are the 5 important things you would include in your things-to-do list?
1. Lobby and successfully gain support to have ‘life safety skills’ education required in our nation’s public high schools.
2. Continue to teach our children that the world is an amazing place and that through education and preparedness they can thrive even in the most uncertain times.
3. Encourage more women to enter the world of emergency services.
4. Continue to share the message of personal preparedness through education, encouragement and through providing tools to empower survival.
5. Continue to advocate for the benefits of taking action from ‘lessons learned’.
Propac: Is there an incident or response that the lessons learned were passed on to others in the Emergency Management field?
Raquel: California is a great place to be involved in emergency management. Not necessarily due to the frequency of major incidents, rather, the consistency of like incidents (fires, floods, earthquakes, etc.) have led to a very organized and structured emergency management environment. Because we are required by state law to work within a standardized emergency management system, emergency managers, new and seasoned, share lessons learned routinely.
ProPac: If you were Queen For A Day what would you like to change in Emergency Management?
Raquel: If I were Queen for the day, I would like to make sure that all community members truly understood the need and benefits of being personally prepared and for them to take personal responsibility for their families survival in emergency situations. Being a survivor takes work. It takes understanding risks, preparing to manage and overcome the risks, practicing how to respond when encountering risks, and what needs to be done after the experiencing. Community members are the true first responders.
ProPac: What is the most satisfying part of working in Emergency Management?
Raquel: It’s having the opportunity to educate, encourage, and empower people to be survivors in disasters.
ProPac: What is the most frustrating part of working in Emergency Management?
Raquel: It is the lack of willingness for many in the community to take personal responsibility for their well being. Marketing of preparedness has been active for over 50 years and yet people, many people, are still not prepared.
ProPac: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Raquel: If I had spare time…… When I am not actively working, my focus is on educating, nurturing and loving my family.
ProPac: What would be your advice to someone considering entering the field of Emergency Management?
Raquel: Emergency Management is a great profession to be involved in. It is a profession that brings the best of people to the forefront during the worst of times. It is a profession where you witness the goodness of community, but amplifies the ugliness of politics. Emergency Management is a profession where you CAN make a difference. But be prepared–as an Emergency Manager you will often go unnoticed when everything goes well and become very well known when it doesn’t.
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