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Women, Girls Recruited for Emergency Management Program

The HERricane program, developed by the Institute for Diversity and Inclusion in Emergency Management and with partner Farmers Insurance, hosts young women and girls to learn about the field.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell sitting at a conference table speaking.
FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell at the National Response Coordination Center.
A host of girls and young women were introduced to the field of emergency management last week when the Institute for Diversity and Inclusion in Emergency Management (I-DIEM) and partner Farmers Insurance put on their weeklong HERricane program in Los Angeles.

The program is aimed at developing diversity in emergency management, specifically among girls and young women who may otherwise lack avenues into emergency management and similar professions.

The participants, girls and women from junior high through junior college and of diverse backgrounds, took part in hands-on development training activities with the goal of highlighting the skills needed for disaster preparedness and emergency management, as well as other careers. The participants were also treated to a keynote by FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.

All the attendees participated for free thanks to Farmers Insurance, as well as other sponsors including The Hero in You Foundation and local councilmembers.

It was an experience that most or all of the participants would not have if not for the HERricane program, which is why it exists.

“Some of these young ladies are coming from foster homes, schools that are not the best and for them to be sitting in a classroom, in an EOC for the first time and see the FEMA administrator and the head of Farmers Insurance speaking is monumental,” said Chauncia Willis, CEO and co-founder of I-DIEM.

The program is offered to schools, cities and other groups where young women and girls can be recruited to participate in a template program or one with some local tweaks.

“When it comes to curriculum, it’s pretty much standardized,” Willis said. “We do offer the location the opportunity to make it very specific in some ways to that location, so for example, even though it’s the HERicane program, Los Angeles was clear that they wanted to incorporate the earthquake scenarios and information on seismology.”

Cities, schools or organizations interested in participating can contact I-DIEM and go through an application process to develop the event. Philadelphia used its existing connections with the Boys and Girls Club and other community organizations to connect with diverse populations and recruit participants. It’s mandatory that the participants be a diverse group of girls. In the case of Philadelphia, the program included more fire rescue scenarios than the standard program.

The program began in Arlington, Va., but was then taken over by I-DIEM. It really started to take off when the partnership with Farmers Insurance began.

“We were intentional about partnering with a like-minded organization like Farmers that is in the same disaster response and disaster recovery realm and cares about equity,” Willis said. “When we saw how many women they have in leadership, we knew this would be a great partnership.”

Farmers also recruits some of the participants in the HERricane program to participate in the Farmers internship program.

“The program has done a good job of not only inspiring girls and women to go into emergency management, but other fields as well,” said Trevor Chapman, director of external communications and public relations for Farmers. “It’s inspired the girls to think about stuff outside of the private sector that is available to them like claims and response, which is one of the biggest reasons Farmers is involved.”

The program originally targeted girls aged 12 to 18, but Farmers suggested that older girls be recruited to make a more immediate impact.

Willis said two-thirds of women and people of color begin their educational careers at community colleges. “So, if you want to diversify the field for women and people of color, community colleges are integral to that diversification and this, honestly, is where Farmers kind of stepped in and said, ‘Let’s look at this more strategically.’”

Willis said after 23 years in emergency management she understands what it’s like to be in a male-dominated field and wants to make it easier for those that follow in her footsteps.

“I’ve been the only woman in the room. I’ve been the only woman of color in the room,” she said. “It’s important for us to really make the field of emergency management more representative of the people who are actually experiencing the impacts of climate change and disaster in general.”