Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Colorado’s obesity prevention manager contributes her skills toward Superstorm Sandy disaster relief

Three days after Superstorm Sandy slammed into the East Coast, Andrea Wagner was one of the thousands of Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel called for duty. She had 48 hours to pack for a five-week trip, alert her family and boss, and get to her destination.

Starting a new job and being a newlywed, most people would have dreaded the timing.

Andrea Wagner
“I’m an on-call Disaster Assistance Employee or reservist, and I signed up to do this work,” said Andrea, obesity prevention manager who works at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.  “Yes, at first I had some mixed emotions about going particularly because of starting a new position at work and leaving right after getting married, but I made a commitment to do this.  I don’t get to choose the timing, and these people were in dire need.“

Superstorm Sandy killed at least 125 people in the United States, and it caused upwards of $62 billion in damage. More than 72,000 homes and businesses were destroyed or damaged in New Jersey alone.

After a brief stop in Pennsylvania to initiate coordination activities on the outskirts of the disaster, Andrea was stationed in New Jersey to oversee approximately $10 million in response efforts.  Her work ensured that survivors had access to legal services, crisis counseling and disaster unemployment assistance.

Responding to communities in desperate need requires a level head and a poised, caring nature. One can tell by talking with Andrea that she fits the bill. She exudes a calm, compassionate demeanor. When asked about how to maintain a calm response in the face of disaster, Andrea says her experience working in multiple crisis situations has helped her to learn how to create a calm environment.

Prior to working in obesity prevention, Andrea worked at the department’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Division. She knows the importance of preparing for any emergency or disaster – having enough food, water and supplies for at least 72 hours and backing up important records like insurance forms and mortgage papers and making them accessible. She says one thing most people forget is that disasters can happen to anyone and being prepared can save lives, and reduce anxiety during the crisis.

Andrea says the energy and skills she uses as an emergency responder benefit her work as an obesity prevention manager.

“We are responding to our nation’s obesity epidemic with the same energy, focus and coordination as we do in a disaster situation. Obesity and its related diseases kill thousands of Coloradans each year, and it costs us more than $1 billion annually in related medical expenses.  We have to move now.”  

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