Sara Estes Cohen
Project Manager, Teracore, Inc.
Department of Homeland Security First Responder Communities of Practice
Govloop.com Gulf Coast Oil Spill Forum
1. What was your path to public service/current job?
Born and raised in New Orleans, after college I moved home and I was living there and working as a rock and roll publicist and freelance music writer until Katrina hit in August of 2005. I moved to Los Angeles after the storm to continue working in PR but my focus had shifted, so I went back to school to pursue a master’s degree in public policy at UCLA. I stumbled upon emergency management and realized it was exactly what I wanted to do. I also turned to social media –which had been my only channel of communication for almost six months after the storm; Louisiana cell phones were intermittent at best no matter where I was. I knew there were implications to this type of technology in an emergency, and if leveraged for communication during and after a disaster (and properly planned and organized), it could greatly change the speed and success of recovery.
In 2008, I graduated with a master’s degree in public policy and emergency public health – and completed a thesis with UCLA Office of Emergency Management on “Using Social Media for Emergency Communications,” developing a model for schools to leverage social media to communicate with students before, during, and after crises. I’ve since presented on this topic at several conferences, and recently wrote “Look Before You Leap: Security Implications in a Web 2.0 World” for the April 2010 issue of the Information Assurance Newsletter (IATAC).
Since graduation, I’ve been working in DC in social media for emergency response, emergency operations and planning, continuity of operations (COOP), business continuity, and critical infrastructure protection in support of several federal agencies.
2. What awesome projects are you working on now?
As a project manager for Teracore, Inc. I currently support DHS First Responder Communities of Practice, an online network of vetted, active and retired First Responders, emergency response professionals and Federal, State, local, or Tribal Homeland Security officials sponsored by the U. S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science & Technology (S&T) Directorate’s First Responder Technologies (R-Tech) program. Registered members of this free and trusted professional network can share information, ideas, and best practices; in doing so they are able to more efficiently and effectively prepare for all hazards.
Taking what I’ve learned since Katrina and through my work in emergency management, I also started the Govloop Gulf Coast Oil Spill Forum https://www.govloop.com/group/gulfcoastoilspillforum – a forum focusing on documenting and discussing oil spill response efforts, collaboration, information sharing, visualization, general preparedness, and public safety. The oil spill has greatly contextualized the need for coordination and communication between the government, private, and non-profit sectors; social media and emerging technology for response are making it easier, faster, and cheaper, etc. There are so many examples of truly innovative efforts, I started this forum in the hopes that people would document as many of these as possible in once place, to provide discussion, lessons learned, detailed references, and case studies for future planning efforts.
In my “spare” time, I volunteer with the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic, a New Orleans non-profit dedicated to providing medical care to underinsured and uninsured musicians. I’m also a member of EMPOWER, a non-profit organization dedicated to the enrichment and support of women in emergency management.
3. What have been some of your most memorable experiences in public service?
While interning at the City of Beverly Hills Office of Emergency Management during grad school, I was asked to speak in front of hundreds of people at the city’s Innovations Day on the importance of personal and family preparedness. I was able to tell my story about Katrina and really bring in everything I had learned since the storm about preparing for disasters. It was the first time I really truly felt like something I was doing would make a difference, and that there had been a purpose for everything I had experienced.
4. What advice do you have for people who are new to the public sector?
I knew it was important for me to learn as much as I could and to continue on the path I had set, but every so often I felt a bit frustrated that I wasn’t working specifically on what I wanted to do. Sometimes I felt like I was too removed from the people I was trying to help and I would have to step back and remind myself of the reason I set out on this path in the first place. Somewhere along the way, I realized though, after someone asked “what I wanted to do when I grew up,” that I was already there. Sometimes it’s the purpose, and not the projects, that keep us going. You have to step back every so often to remind yourself of why you started all of this. That, in my opinion, is why we all do what we do.