Wilder School hosts FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell for fireside chat
by Pam Cox
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is taking a fresh approach to disaster management. FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell, the first woman to lead the agency, participated in a fireside chat with students of the Wilder School on April 27, 2023. She gave an inside look on how FEMA operates and said lessons learned from disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, has shaped her leadership of putting the needs of people first.
Approximately 250 students attended the fireside chat hosted by the Wilder School’s Research Institute for Social Equity (RISE) and the homeland security and emergency preparedness program. Susan Gooden, dean of the Wilder School, facilitated the discussion and underscored the importance of the visit.
"Administrator Criswell’s expertise was very informative in understanding the vast scope of FEMA’s work as they support individuals and communities before, during, and after disasters” she said. “They selected the Wilder School as a place to intentionally recruit a talented federal workforce. This was an incredible opportunity for our students.” Gooden posed questions to Administrator Criswell to demystify the complex roles and responsibilities of FEMA, as well as discuss FEMA’s approaches to providing disaster assistance to all communities equitably.
Administrator Criswell shared her career journey and experiences leading the agency. She first joined the emergency management field as a firefighter. She recalled that she had been discouraged by her male colleagues from signing up and completing the testing. Criswell not only persisted, but excelled, graduating 11th in a class of 1000. This defining moment launched her trajectory and has served as a continual motivation — for her and others.
Criswell shared the ever-broadening scope of emergency planning and response, and how multiplying factors compound response — especially the disparities that impact underserved communities, which are less likely to recover without more access to resources. She said FEMA's focus is finding a more equitable approach to disaster recovery as well as improving access to disaster recovery resources. Her team is working with state and local partners nationwide to better recognize and understand societal inequities so these communities aren't exacerbated after a disaster hits.
"We are working to learn what we can do to reduce those barriers or even completely remove them, so we can make sure that everyone has the opportunity to get the assistance that they are eligible for." Criswell added that her agency works to "make sure we are always putting people first in everything we do."
During the visit, FEMA conducted a recruitment fair aimed at filling 1500 positions across multiple career sectors and professions. FEMA has posed a variety of openings, and Wilder School faculty member Curtis Brown thanked them for spending time with students.
Wilder School alums and members of the City of Richmond Emergency Management Team attended.
Watch the full fireside chat on the Wilder School YouTube channel