A way to learn and grow professionally: MaryAnn Marrocolo

Editor's Note: This month's Member Profile features MaryAnn Marrocolo, Director, Recovery and Mitigation, New York City Office of Emergency Management, and member of APWA's Emergency Management Technical Committee.

  MaryAnn Marrocolo

Tell us about your background: This is my first job out of college. I've been with OEM for five years. I started as an Emergency Planner and then a Project Manager. Since April 2002, I have been a Director.

Education: I have a Bachelor of Arts in political science with a concentration in public policy and economics from American University. Currently, I am attending New York University where I am working towards a Masters in Public Administration with a concentration in management. I will be done with my MPA in the spring of 2005.

Favorite Book: It's called The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, by Robert A. Caro. This book is about the rise and fall of Robert Moses and how he shaped the city for better and worse. He was responsible for much of the city's public works planning, such as the Triboro Bridge and all the expressways and for laying out much of the park space—he invented the parkway. Much of the way New York City was and is can be directly attributed to Moses.

Hobbies/Interests: I enjoy all types of sports, especially baseball, and especially the New York Yankees—but of course, I am from New York. I run, hike, and rock climb. I'm really interested in New York City history, and I sit on the Organizing Committee for the New York Historical Society, which plans events and activities for the Society.

Role Model: I would say if I had to pick, it would be a tie between former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Teddy Roosevelt.

Career Accomplishments: Well, I think one of my biggest career accomplishments would be my involvement in New York City's recovery from the World Trade Center attacks, in particular the debris removal and disposal operations at the WTC and the Fresh Kills Landfill. I feel as though OEM has given me numerous opportunities to be proud of what I do and really impact the lives of New Yorkers for the better. For example, I represent the city on the National Fire Protection Association's Technical Committee on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs - NFPA 1600. This committee sets national standards on emergency management, such as what constitutes an emergency management program and what it means to be prepared for disasters.

Awards Received: One of the projects that I'm involved in is being nominated for an Innovation in Government Award from Harvard University. I worked on a disaster logistics plan for the city, and part of that plan involved the development of a piece of software called CALMS to manage the city's resources in a disaster. It's a really great program.

We're actually taking CALMS regional this year. The jurisdictions surrounding New York City have agreed to provide resource information, which will help to coordinate resources across jurisdictions in a disaster. For example, say that Nassau County wants to borrow a piece of equipment from Westchester County. They can use this system to identify what they want to borrow, and then they can work with the county through mutual aid to exchange that resource. This is the first time in the city's history where we've had one system that can bring together all of the various resource information that we need in a disaster, and it's the first time in the whole state where there has been a regional, resource-sharing system.

Tell us more about the Office of Emergency Management: OEM was established in 1996 by Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and in November of 2001 there was a ballot referendum and voters decided to make OEM an independent city agency. Our job is to coordinate incidents involving multiple agencies, and also to develop the citywide emergency plans, such as a coastal storm plan and a power disruption plan. When there's a large emergency we activate our Emergency Operations Center, and we coordinate the agencies' responses to help resolve the incident.

What are some of the projects and activities of APWA's Emergency Management Committee? It's a really great group of people. We've been monitoring the development of the Department of Homeland Security, and trying to make sure that public works is included in whatever is being created. Often fire, police, and EMS are included in programs and policies, but not public works. Public works is such an essential piece of the emergency response picture. Many times fire and police respond and leave after the emergency is resolved, but the incident may not be over—that is where public works comes in, such as in removing debris and reconstructing damaged facilities. If it had not been for public works agencies, the city wouldn't have been able to fully recover from September 11.

The committee does advocacy work on behalf of APWA, and has also done a couple of publications. Last year we published an Emergency Management Field Manual for Public Works, and I was involved in that effort. We had a publications task force, and six or seven people wrote different sections. This year we're working on revising another publication called Recovering from Disasters, which will be a companion document to the one that we did last year.

The committee has also made several visits to Washington, D.C. Brian Usher [Public Works Director, Zion, IL] testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee about mitigation. We work with DHS on initiatives such as mutual aid and resource typing. Chris Yarnell [Public Works Director, Cole County, MO] is working on a model mutual aid agreement for public works agencies, and Larry Nadeau [Project Manager, Port St. Lucie, FL] is involved in the resource typing initiative to make requesting equipment through mutual aid easier.

You're also involved with the National Response Plan and the National Incident Management System. What have been some of your responsibilities with those initiatives? The Department of Homeland Security formed a State and Local Working Group to review documents being developed related to the NIMS and NRP. DHS asked the City of New York to participate. There are a number of advocacy organizations around the table, but New York City is invited as a separate stakeholder. We meet about every other month.

We looked at the National Incident Management System, which was released in March of this year, and now we're working on the National Response Plan. We met in April to review a draft of the National Response Plan.

At these meetings, we review documents page by page. DHS presents concepts they are using to form these documents and we provide feedback. It is rewarding to participate because the writing team at DHS is listening to our comments and making changes based on them. I would say about ninety-five percent of what we recommend gets included. I think DHS is trying to make a document that will be useable for everyone, and they're using our committee to help, much like a sounding board.

I understand you took a ride in a Blackhawk helicopter last year. What was that all about? Well, actually, the NRP.NIMS Working Group has been meeting since August of last year, and our first meeting was the week that the blackout hit the northeastern United States. I was at the meeting in Washington, D.C. when the city went dark, and I had to come back. But there was no way to get back, because there weren't any planes flying in the city, Amtrak wasn't running, and traffic would have made it impossible to drive back.

So DHS provided a Blackhawk helicopter, and some U.S. Customs pilots flew me back with my boss who was at the first meeting. We landed at the Wall Street Heliport which is on the east side of Manhattan. Then we took another helicopter across the river to Brooklyn. And we landed right underneath the Brooklyn Bridge on this promenade. It was pretty cool.

A lot of people still give me a hard time about it, so when I go somewhere I tell them, "Yeah, don't worry, and if something happens I'll come back in a helicopter." It was definitely a career highlight.

Why do you like being a member of APWA? Actually, I had never heard of the organization until I met Larry Nadeau, who I mentioned earlier. He was the chair of the Emergency Management Committee before Brian Usher, who's the chair now. I sat next to Larry at a meeting with FEMA, where he was representing APWA. I was really interested in what he was doing because much of what I do in recovery and mitigation involves the city's public works agencies.

But as Larry and I were chatting I said, "You know, that's really interesting. If you ever need anyone to help you, just give me a call." And about four or five months later he called and said, "We need someone to come and sit on this committee." So I got involved that way, and I've been learning so much about public works. For someone who doesn't do that—I don't fix streets, and I don't do parks and rec stuff, but I do a lot of work with those agencies—it has really helped me understand what the real scope of public works is, and what they can bring to the table in an emergency response.

And when I went to Congress last year, I made a point not to go to any of the emergency sessions. One session I attended was about urban forestry and the benefits for municipalities of planting trees. The person in charge of forestry from Los Angeles gave a great presentation on the history of trees and how they are placed in cities. I looked at it as a way to learn and grow professionally.