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Emergency Management Division has new focus on coastal resilience

Emergency Management Division has new focus on coastal resilience

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, more than 4.8 million people live along Washington’s 3,000 miles of coastline. To help those individuals prepare for an impending tsunami following a catastrophic earthquake, Washington’s Legislature approved funding for an inter-departmental Coastal Hazards Organizational Resilience Team (COHORT) during the 2023 legislative session.

“The environmental and economic health of our coastal communities is very important to our state. This project will allow us to focus on planning and preparing for these hazards and engage state, local, tribal and federal partners in long-term resilience efforts,” said Joel Haarstad, Washington Emergency Management Division (EMD) mitigation and recovery section manager.

Composed of representatives from Washington State University Extension, Sea Grant, Department of Ecology, and EMD, COHORT will work collaboratively to address the needs of coastal communities, while easing barriers for these communities to receive support through their joint-expertise and resources.

“Coastal communities face threats from both traditional hazards and the increasing risk due to climate change,” said Ellen Chappelka, coastal resilience specialist with Washington Emergency Management Division. “Many communities are still struggling to recover from past disasters while planning for future resilience.”

Chappelka has long harbored a passion for emergency management and coastal resilience. Growing up on Vashon Island as a fire explorer with Vashon Island and as a former Fire Cadet for the Seattle Fire Department, she was introduced to the myriad of hazards facing Washington State and the challenges facing coastal communities. She studied homeland security and public health at Tulane University in New Orleans where she learned and lived coastal resilience. She also worked as an emergency medical technician (EMT) during her time in New Orleans, further solidifying her passion for emergency management. After graduation, Ellen conducted deployment readiness work for the United States Air Force at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany. She subsequently attended Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health and was awarded a Master of Public Health degree. At Harvard, she helped develop the FEMA Vanguard Executive Crisis Leaders Fellowship through Harvard’s National Preparedness Leadership Initiative.

“That program brought together emergency management leaders from across sectors and across the country to confront the nation’s most pressing challenges and brainstorm a national perspective on the best ways to mitigate hazards,” said Chappelka.

Post-graduation she worked as a public health preparedness specialist with a focus on bioterrorism prevention and response.

EMD is especially interested in using this opportunity to support communities, bringing plans from ‘shelf to shovel’ in recognition of many communities self-identifying this a challenging area for them. The newly created coastal resilience specialist at EMD will provide emergency management outreach and grant application coordination to ensure robust participation for coastal/shoreline communities.

“I am looking forward to continuing to work in the resilience space and fostering collaboration with Washington’s coastal communities,” said Chappelka.