The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority received a “gold seal” in January to become  the first airport operation to earn full accreditation by the Emergency Management Accreditation Program.

“Emergency management is essential in the aviation world,” says Keila Walker-Denis ’07, assistant director of airport operations in emergency management for the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, which oversees Orlando International Airport and Orlando Executive Airport. “We demonstrated that we have a sound foundation for an emergency-management program.”

Walker-Denis, whose background is in emergency management, says the process was an opportunity to take the airport where it needed to be, especially now in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. “This event has further highlighted the importance of communication, cooperation, coordination and collaboration,” she says. The accreditation program used 64 industry standards to determine the top rating.

Her industry contacts — such as Osceola County Emergency Management, Orlando Health, Florida’s State Medical Response Team, the Central Florida Intelligence Exchange, and the Incident Management Team for Central Florida — have proven valuable in her current role.

‘We may not be the experts in any one area, but we know a lot about everything and where to get resources.’ — Keila Walker-Denis

“We may not be the experts in any one area, but we know a lot about everything and where to get resources,” Walker-Denis says.

The airport authority’s emergency management team has been assigned with tasks such as collecting and analyzing information related to COVID-19; ensuring personal protective equipment is provided to necessary employees; supporting local, state and federal executive orders; and a host of other responsibilities to maintain the safety, health and wellbeing of employees and passengers, Walker-Denis says.

Beyond the coronavirus, her role always includes a lot of planning and preparing, ensuring all teams and decision-makers at the airports work together effectively and communicate the same message.

“Once we identify what hazards we are prone to, the goal first is to try and prevent them. And if we can’t prevent them, the next step is to identify how to mitigate or lessen the impact to our operations,” Walker-Denis says. “Of course, our ultimate goal is to keep flying.”

Before her career in emergency management, Walker-Denis started at UCF in the business program but switched to major in public administration because she was intrigued by the process that went into decision making during emergencies, such as for hurricanes when she was a child in Miami.

During an internship with the Osceola County Emergency Management Department, she participated in emergency operations during tropical storm Ernesto in 2006. Witnessing the controlled chaos of agencies, community stakeholders and departments coming together “ignited that passion, that flame,” she says.

“It all opened my eyes and ignited the fire I had back then to do what I do today. It’s truly a passion. It’s the best thing. It’s a very rewarding career field, mentally and emotionally, knowing that you’re able to make a change.”

Walker-Denis also serves on UCF’s emergency-management advisory board, which helps ensure UCF courses teach up-to-date content and expose students to the realities of the emergency management world beyond the classroom.

“Someone did it for me when I was in college, as far as that internship,” says Walker-Denis. “It opened my eyes, and I want to do the same. It feels right to do the same, to pay that forward.”