Pamela Holstein-Wallace is a 2007 IMC alumna with 20+ years of combined experience in emergency response planning and preparedness to include working with Federal, state, local, tribal, and territories. She is currently a program analyst for FEMA.
Ally Kennedy: What is your current role and what are your responsibilities?
Pamela Holstein-Wallace: I work for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), which is a national system for local alerting that provides authenticated emergency alert and information messaging from emergency officials to the public through cell phones as Wireless Emergency Alerts, and to radio and television via the Emergency Alert System.
AK: What role have you had specifically in communicating to the public about COVID-19? What is your focus right now?
PHW: I work in the Stakeholder Engagement branch within the IPAWS Program Management Office as a subject-matter expert for state, local, tribal and territorial government outreach, providing information and helping create awareness of IPAWS capabilities to send alerts and warnings to the public. My focus right now is to update and revise the Independent Study Courses: IS-247 IPAWS for Alert Originators and IS-251 IPAWS for Alerting Administrators, offered free online through the Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, Maryland. The IS-247 course is a requirement for alerting authorities before they can get permission to access the system. The Navajo Nation was the first tribal nation to send a wireless emergency alert—a response to a COVID-19 outbreak of 49 cases confirmed on the western part of the Navajo Nation. I was able to assist with information just as the Navajo Division of Public Safety Department of Emergency Management was preparing to send the alert. IPAWS enables public safety officials the capability to deliver a single alert simultaneously through multiple communication devices, reaching as many people as possible to save lives and protect property. As of early Wednesday, March 25, 22 agencies across 14 states, one Indian tribe and one U.S. territory used IPAWS to send 63 messages containing local emergency information about COVID-19 to cell phones and other wireless devices, radios and televisions.
AK: How are you dealing with disinformation (which seems to be a big problem right now)?
PHW: FEMA has set up a website to help provide correct information and dispel rumor at the FEMA Coronavirus Rumor Control website.
AK: What other notable events or projects have you worked on with FEMA?
PHW: Most notably, I was the lead for IPAWS on the national outreach in preparation of the first nationwide Wireless Emergency Alert test using the Presidential code, Oct, 3, 2018. I am honored to serve as the IPAWS Tribal Liaison reaching out to assist Tribes with IPAWS information and training. I was project manager for the 2016 IPAWS National Emergency Alert System (EAS) Test where West Virginia was the first state in the nation to voluntarily use the National Periodic Test Code to assess the operational readiness and effectiveness of FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning infrastructure for distribution of a national-level message from origination to reception by the public. The National Periodic Test code was later used to distribute a national test. I was deployed to Puerto Rico for 30 days just after Hurricane Maria as a Disaster Survivor Assistance Specialist. Although the environment was very austere in the beginning without electricity, water, working ATMs, etc., I was proud to have played a small part in helping individuals as I walked through neighborhoods and mountains throughout the west side of the island registering people for FEMA assistance. The satisfaction of helping survivors in their time of need is part of why I came to work at FEMA.
AK: What does a typical day in the office look like for you now?
PHW: My typical day now consists of endless hours on my computer in video chats, telephone conferences and email, while teleworking from home. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I was often in the office at FEMA Headquarter or often on an airplane traveling to state and tribal conferences and exercises.
AK: You have an M.S. in Community Health Education. Did you always want to work in public health?
PHW: I began my career as the community relations and development director at Jefferson Memorial Hospital in Ranson, West Virginia. I loved marketing and public relations, but after the historic events on 9/11, my life and career goals changed. I wanted to help my community plan and prepare for catastrophic events, from bioterrorism to pandemic influenza. Little did I know that my education and experience would lead me to work at FEMA and play a role in national preparedness and disaster response.
AK: Why did you decide to pursue a master’s in IMC?
PHW: I wanted to get my Master of Science degree in Integrated Marketing Communications to gain knowledge and a better understanding of how to apply consistent brand messaging across both traditional and non-traditional marketing channels, and to understand how to communicate using different communication channels to reinforce each other in messaging. My IMC degree has helped me tremendously in my career. Among many other benefits, I was also detailed within FEMA to assist strategic communications in the Office of External Affairs. That experience along with my formal education has helped the IPAWS Program Management Office and stakeholder engagement.
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