New Director of Emergency Management Handles Drought
Issue   |   Wed, 09/28/2016 - 00:37

As the first director of the college’s new Department of Emergency Management, Tamara Mahal manages crises for the college, including coordinating the school’s current response to the ongoing drought in western Massachusetts, and helping the school remain prepared for a potential emergency.

Before coming to Amherst, Mahal created her own emergency management startup company, Firefly, which managed finances for disaster relief. She also worked as a consultant for the FBI and the Federal Emergency Management Agency within the field of disaster response.

The position and department were created following plans by the college’s Chief of Police John Carter and President Biddy Martin to make the college more proactive in preventing and mitigating potential emergencies. The search to fill the position began last September.

Mahal’s career in emergency management began with the American Red Cross in Michigan. There, she deployed with the Red Cross to different disaster sites around the country. Later, she attended the University of Chicago’s emergency management program.

“A lot of that experience is valuable at a place like Amherst College because I know what it’s like to respond to a disaster,” Mahal said. “I know how confusing and chaotic it is. I know how bad it can be if you’re not transparent and open about information with the people that you’re trying to help.”

As the director of emergency management, Mahal will coordinate different departments at the college to work together for emergency preparedness and during emergencies.

“It’s not my job to give out orders during a disaster, but it’s my job to make sure that everyone understands what their role is, that they’ve been well trained on it and that they’re able to execute,” Mahal said.

“[We recognized] that we needed a more holistic approach [to emergencies], which meant involving all kinds of departments,” Carter said. “When there’s an emergency, it’s going to involve the senior staff of the college, dining services, the registrar … There are so many moving parts to it. We needed someone with the professional background to help us facilitate that,” said Carter.

According to Mahal, emergency management goes hand in hand with sustainability. As the effects of global climate change become more apparent, being sustainable is a method of preventing disasters in itself, said Mahal.

Mahal works closely with Laura Draucker, the college’s director of sustainability. So far, they have worked together on the first-year orientation LEAP program “Solving Climate Change,” which is primarily run by Draucker.

“[Mahal’s hire has] allowed for another opportunity to think about sustainability and how it impacts the campus,” Draucker said.

Shirley Moe, a nurse in Keefe Health Center, is part of an emergency management team, run by Mahal, that comprises members from multiple departments and prepares ways to manage and minimize the impact of various potential disasters.

“She has such a wealth of knowledge and expertise, not just in public health, but in all types of emergencies,” Moe said.

Mahal also said that she hopes to engage with students about emergency management. Her office, located in the facilities building, is open to students who wish to discuss anything related to emergency management, sustainability or disaster response and prevention.