Life-altering events, including the current global pandemic, often give people new perspectives that change their relationships, careers and hobbies. For Pamela Holstein-Wallace (M.S. IMC, 2007), the 9/11 terrorist attack was that event.
Holstein-Wallace began her career as the community relations and development director at Jefferson Memorial Hospital in Ranson, West Virginia, where she was working during 9/11. She acted as the official spokesperson for the hospital, communicating with local, state and national news organizations, in addition to managing the advertising and marketing efforts.
“After 9/11 my career goals completely changed. I realized I wanted to help my community plan and prepare for catastrophic events,” she said. “And now I’m in the thick of it again as we battle COVID-19.”
Today, Holstein-Wallace is a program analyst for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), where she works in the Stakeholder Engagement branch within the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) Program Management Office. IPAWS is a national system for local alerting, providing authenticated emergency alert and information messaging from officials to the public through cell phone messages, radio and television.
Holstein-Wallace uses knowledge and skills she gained in the IMC program every day, as she prepares emergency messaging that has to reach audiences in a variety of circumstances through a variety of mediums. Additionally, she’s in constant communication with multiple government agencies to make sure they understand IPAWS capabilities when crisis communication is needed.
During the current pandemic, she is assisting officials in disaster response. As the IPAWS Tribal Liaison, she recently helped the Navajo Nation become the first tribal nation to send a wireless emergency alert to cell phones in response to an initial COVID-19 outbreak of 49 confirmed cases. As of April 21, there have been 241 messages using FEMA IPAWS that contained local emergency messages with information about the pandemic.
Her career with FEMA was a natural career progression after leaving the hospital, having worked in public health as a consultant in Jefferson County, West Virginia, and then as a bioterrorism threat preparedness planner in Berkeley County, West Virginia at the Berkeley County Health Department.
“I worked with county and state officials to develop the Berkeley County Pandemic Influenza response plan,” said Holstein-Wallace. “We knew it was not if a pandemic event would occur as in the 1918 influenza pandemic, but when. Sadly, that event we hoped wouldn’t happen but one we planned for, has come with COVID-19.”
Holstein-Wallace explained that outreach is essential in her current role to communicate expectations, develop best practices and reinforce the purpose of testing. During her time with FEMA in stakeholder engagement, she’s led numerous national outreach efforts for IPAWS, such as working with stakeholders for the State of West Virginia to execute the nation’s first IPAWS National Test using the national periodic test code, which set the stage for the first nationwide test of wireless emergency alerts in 2018, referred to in the media as the “Presidential Test.” The IPAWS Program Management Office applied lessons learned from the West Virginia test to expand the number of state participants and facilitate relationships between state emergency management and broadcast communities.
While at FEMA, Holstein-Wallace has been deployed into austere environments for as long as 30 days at a time, assisting with hurricane response in Puerto Rico, hurricane-ravaged areas on the East Coast and to wildfires in California on the West Coast as a disaster survivor assistance specialist.
“My work at FEMA has been one of the most impactful experiences I’ve had in my career,” Holstein-Wallace said. “I am proud to have played a small part in helping individuals and communities. The satisfaction of helping others is why I came to work at FEMA.”