Friday, September 30, 2011

First Impressions from a New Regional Director

- Lisa Olson-McDonald, West Central Region Director

Lisa Olson-McDonald (far right) joins Governor Scott Walker,
Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar and WEM Administrator Brian Satula
in meeting with Clark County residents affected by a tornado
in late August.
On August 1, I began the next chapter in my career by becoming the West Central Regional Director for Wisconsin Emergency Management.  Having grown up and graduated from college in La Crosse, it has always been my goal to eventually return to the Coulee Region.  I have worked in Madison for more than 13 years of my professional career, so it is nice to finally “come home.” 

As what seems to be typical of emergency management careers, three weeks into the job, a tornado struck Clark County on August 23.  When the scene was secure, I was able to visit residents whose homes were destroyed.  The stories that they told were extraordinary and it is amazing that none of these residents were seriously injured.  Everyone spoke of how members of the community came to help within hours of the tornado.  One of the most remarkable aspects of this job is to witness the generosity of people, both of those who work in the profession and of those who find themselves in the midst of a crisis.

I’m finding out pretty quickly that this is a “jack of all trades” job.  My major task is to help counties prepare for emergencies and to assist them when disaster strikes.  Between disasters, I work with counties to make certain their disaster plans are in place with the State and I help them to work through the process of finding financial help to recoup expenses from emergency responses.  Due to the proximity of the Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant in Red Wing, Minnesota, I will work continue to work closely with Pierce County to support them in the unlikely event of a power plant disruption…given that I worked as a radiological emergency planner for four years prior to this regional director position, that part of the job should be familiar!

The West Central region consists of 13 counties:  St. Croix; Dunn; Chippewa; Taylor; Clark; Jackson; Monroe; La Crosse; Trempealeau; Buffalo; Pepin; Pierce and Eau Claire; as well as one tribe, the Ho-Chunk Nation.  I’ve had the opportunity to meet with each of the counties’ emergency management directors, and I know that we have a great team looking out for the residents of West Central Wisconsin.  With the nature of what we do, I will never know from week to week who may need support from a devastating storm or man-caused event, so starting off with such a kind reception from the counties gives me the confidence of knowing that we will always do what it takes to support the people of the region in a time of need.

Being the regional director for a 13-county area is a serious responsibility, but one that will certainly be rewarding.  Emergency management is an exciting field, and I look forward to the surprises and successes that this new position will provide.

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