In this week’s Knights Do That episode, we speak with Associate Professor Claire Connolly Knox, who is an expert in crisis and emergency management. She released a new book this year and serves as the emergency and crisis management academic program coordinator in the College of Community Innovation and Education. During her conversation with host Alex Cumming, she discusses hurricane season, impact of coastal wetlands and learning from crises, such as Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and Pulse Nightclub.
Produced by UCF, the podcast highlights students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni who do incredible things on campus, in the community and around the globe.
Claire Connolly Knox: For me, it started really early on. I started recycling programs in my high school and my college, I got bike lanes installed in my community. So being an environmentalist is — my mom said I live and I breathed it. I was born in environmentalist — and really the connection between emergency management and environmental really came together when I was working for the federal government and being the person between the scientists and the policymakers, being able to see the disconnect really drove me to ask some really important questions as to why is good science not making its way into policy?
And we’re seeing the impacts of the fact that Louisiana loses s football field amount of wetlands every 45 minutes. So, if we have this great science and we have really great policymakers, why is this disconnect happening? And so it drove me to ask questions, got me into grad school. And while I was in grad school, Hurricane Katrina happened in my home state of Louisiana and to see failure of governments and failure of response on every single level — local, state and federal — was shocking.
And it got to my core as to what are we doing and why, what should we be doing? And so it drove me to add emergency management to my degree program and then drove everything I’ve done since.
Alex Cumming: So you saw that there was a bit of a human disconnect from it between what’s actually happening, that you can see with your own eyes.
And with the people who are in charge of making the policies and the rules and what they were leaving sort of untouched. You were trying to bridge the gap of the human aspect of it all. So seeing the Hurricane Katrina experience that brought you to where you are now, and when you reflect on that, do you see that as sort of an inciting incident that just pushed you further into the development of your career?
Claire Connolly Knox: It really did. It was that turning point. You know, I already knew how valuable our coastal wetlands were as our first line of defense against storms. And having spent time in the field with scientists to plant and to reinvest in our barrier islands and in our coastal shores to make sure that we have as much land between us — the communities like New Orleans and Thibodaux — between that and the Gulf, the more vegetated wetlands, you have the greater chance that you can survive storm surge and all these other components of a hurricane. And so to see that breaking down, but then to see that the government wasn’t there to adequately respond.
And I think part of what came out of Katrina that ties into my more recent research is the lack of cultural competency, the lack of understanding of culture and the role that culture plays. And we see great success stories that happened out of Katrina of communities coming together, but they already had that social capital, right. They had already been established. They had been working together as a community. And so they had that resiliency network kind of built in and you see that those communities were more resilient and bounce back faster than some of the other ones.
Alex Cumming: People came together amongst themselves, as opposed to being brought together by an outside force; people who banded together for their own positive growth.
Claire Connolly Knox: Absolutely. And you look at the Cajun Navy, you look at the Vietnamese community, South of New Orleans. There were so many great little gyms that you could pull out of Katrina that we studied to death, but that we’re constantly trying to figure out, okay, what is that formula? What did they have that we could then apply to new communities or other communities now to be better prepared for the next disaster?
And I think that’s a huge part of what we try to do in emergency management. And, I think the biggest thing that we learned out of Katrina when you look at it from like a policy perspective is to bring those faith base and nonprofit organizations to the table earlier on. Don’t just assume they’re going to show up during the recovery phase and when they don’t you go, well, wait, what happened? Where did they go? It’s the idea that they are at the table during the planning, the preparedness, the mitigation, every phase of emergency management, they should be involved. And so we’re starting to see that trickle down and get more implemented.
Alex Cumming: I imagine a lot of the humanity in sort of the bridge-building that you had when you were working in that section translates a lot to your time as a professor here at UCF and the humanity you have to have when speaking with students and understanding their experiences.
And I’m certain you find a lot of students that are very similar in the ideology of yourself, that they have these big grandiose ideas, and you have to say, “All right, but where do you want to focus all this great energy? Where do you want to harness it and push the drive towards it?”
So how has your work at UCF as an associate professor helped your research interests sort of evolve?
Claire Connolly Knox: Being at this point in my career, it’s not just research. I’m very lucky. It’s research is teaching at service. And, you mentioned with the students, particularly, it’s really cool as program director to read their statements coming in because everybody has that moment that they realize I need to do emergency management.
What’s interesting is how it has evolved. For some of us at the earlier careers, you have 9/11 that really spurred people, driving into research and to the discipline. For me and my generation, it was Katrina. Then you had Super Storm Sandy, and then more recently, which is, I think more telling of who we are, where we’re located in Florida is that you have those survivors of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas shooting.
And to see that generation who were either in the school or knew someone in the school, or even with the Pulse nightclub massacre, to see that that is what’s driving them to come into this profession is humbling. And to be able to mentor them and to guide them through the process.
They come in with these — Yeah, they want to change the world. We all want to change the world. I think that’s what’s amazing about the discipline of public administration in general. We’re all public servants. We have that heart. And so yes, to think through and guide them but not to pigeonhole them.
You know, I think it’s really great to give them that broad baseline foundation. So that’s one aspect. I would also say from a research perspective, what has excited me about staying UCF has been the coastal cluster, the National Center for Integrated Coastal Research, and the fact that we get to work with interdisciplinary teams.
I think that’s essential when you think about these big complex, dynamic crisis and these issues, you mentioned Katrina and you talked about the economics, the politics, the humanitarian, I mean, there’s so many components that go into a successful response and recovery effort. And, so for me being part of that interdisciplinary team has been really exciting and stimulating and to be able to go through these really big complex issues is amazing.
Alex Cumming: Do you find that a lot of these kids who come with these big hearts into it, their goal is to stop what they experienced? That they come and they see these horrendous events and they say, “I want to help ensure that this doesn’t happen in the future.”
Claire Connolly Knox: That’s part of it. The other part is for them to understand the system that was or should have been in place to more adequately, either prevent something like this from happening or to have a better response component.
So you have those who are more focused on the politics and trying to understand how can we make policy better to make sure that there are better resources in place for school safety and all these other components, but then you see the more true emergency management side of it, what should emergency management be doing to adequately address these issues?
Alex Cumming: Do you find that a lot of the students have to think about take ethics courses and philosophy courses so they can have a broader understanding of the greater ideas that go into these sort of things?
Claire Connolly Knox: Possibly. So the statements that I’m reading are master students. They already have an undergraduate degree and a lot of them are coming straight from undergrad. So yes, they’ve had those courses and those are very applicable. And they’re now thinking about these issues in a different way, in a broader way.
But then I also have some of those applicants who are now 9-1-1 dispatchers, or are currently in some element of emergency management that are wanting to understand it at a deeper level. So it’s an interesting mix of those students who are coming through the program.
Alex Cumming: So hurricane season is around the corner and something we as Floridians experience every year. What can you share about managing crises or disaster response and recovery when it comes to these at-home experiences?
Claire Connolly Knox: The first thing I’d like to tell people is that when people think responding to a hurricane or preparing for a hurricane, it’s local government. That’s part of it. Really emergency management is a networked approach. And the fact that it is every sector.
So it’s your faith based nonprofits, private sector, and government at all levels preparing for it. So while every disaster starts local, it ends local is the idea that it’s a full community approach.
Alex Cumming: I find it really interesting how as Floridians in the same way that people who grew up in sort of the, the Great Plains area, they grow up having to say, you know, if there’s a tornado coming, this is what we do. It just happens. Same in California with the earthquakes. People who come to Florida and are here in the early fall, they’re like, Oh, everything’s shutting down for a week because there’s a hurricane coming through. But next week, things will slowly grow back to normal. And I just find it interesting that so many kids just kind of come in Florida was sort of that just in the back of their mind. And they’re just like, this is just a part of life that we have to experience.
Claire Connolly Knox: Yeah. And every area of our country has, like you mentioned, has these different hazards. Here in Florida, I think what’s a unique challenge is that we’re constantly growing. We’re constantly welcoming people in from other parts of the country who may not understand what even hurricane season that is in season. Right. And so a big part of, messaging to get out again has always to be prepared, have your go kit ready, also have a plan, understand that Florida is very long and narrow. And so there’s only so many roads out. And so making sure that you have Plan A, Plan B Plan C, what does that look like?
And then especially now with the pandemic — what does that look like? You know, this last hurricane season was a really big challenge. First of all, there’s five major hurricanes that went through the Gulf coast, which was crazy. Louisiana broke a record yet again. But it was really the decision-makers had some extra levels of complexity because you not only had active hurricane season, you had COVID-19, which really changed the way we designed and prepared our shelters, how we designed our evacuations, who are the receiving communities, but then some of those receiving communities were also dealing with civil protests. And for some of them didn’t feel safe to open up some shelters.
So it was a really interesting complex dynamic of ethical decision-making as to, as a receiving community, do even open up your shelters and the safety of your citizens. People were questioning whether they should leave their homes because of COVID.
This last year, you know, we’re still studying how some of the decision-making was happening and what different communities did. And I think we’re going to continue to see that trickle into this current hurricane season.
Alex Cumming: Do you find a lot of the same cultural groups that you’ve studied in Louisiana were similar in Florida that sort of banded together in the experiences in the aftermath of a hurricane or in response to crisis management?
Claire Connolly Knox: We do. We do. We’re really lucky here in Central Florida, especially. And I guess I say we’re lucky in the fact that I’ve had a chance to interact with so many of these amazing nonprofit organizations who have stepped up time and time again. And what we see here in Florida is this really, consistent, working of these different sectors together at all levels of the emergency management cycle.
Florida is always seen as the leader in emergency management for so many reasons, dating back to our response or lack of response to (Hurricane) Andrew. We’ve changed our building codes. We’ve changed so many components of our preparedness that has then trickled down to this integration of our community members to be able to work together quickly and efficiently, to be able to respond to any of the disasters.
And you look at the current COVID-19 pandemic and the vaccine distribution, places like Orange County, Seminole County are seen as leaders. And the fact that they’ve been able to really integrate very quickly those faith-based and non-profit organizations to reach out to some of those more socially vulnerable populations to get them in to be vaccinated.
So we’re seeing it not just with hurricane season, both, any other disasters that we are experiencing. We’re seeing that integration. And it’s just allows us to be quicker in responding and more efficient and effective.
Alex Cumming: With the effects of climate change, you know, what do you wish young people understood about it and how this affects them going forward?
Claire Connolly Knox: Exactly. It’s a now issue. And it’s also not just a coastal issue. So a lot of people go, oh, it’s sea level rise. And so if I don’t live on the coast, I don’t own property on the coast. I don’t have to worry about it. So for example, what we need to worry about here in Central Florida is that we are predicted to be a receiving community when it comes to climate change. So we’re expecting some large migrations from South Florida to Central Florida, because they are going to run out of water. They’re going to run out of land. They’re going to run out of a couple things that it won’t make that area livable. And so are we prepared for that? Are we prepared to have more people on the roads and to have less water and to have more issues with our sewer? So there’s so many components that our everyday life that we take for granted that where that’s going to change dramatically, that a lot of people don’t think of.
It’s a chain reaction. That if we have issues out of Miami, well, then they’re going to move up to Central Florida. That’s going to then affect, our schools, everything. A lot of communities have it on their radar. But when I study plans and I study policies and I look for elements of climate change or global warming, some of these coastal communities don’t even have it in their comprehensive land use plans. They don’t have it in emergency management plans, which blows my mind, but it’s why I do what I do. I geek out over plans and policies. Cause if it’s not there — a legally binding document — what’s going to hold those community members feet to the fire when it comes to actually making changes? We’re lucky we live here in Central Florida. We have the City of Orlando, which is doing amazing things.
So a lot of communities are looking at what Orlando’s doing with Chris Castro and Buddy Dyer to see, what does that look like? What does real climate change actions look like in a city dynamic? And I think that it’s this really cool bed of innovation that’s happening, from an individual level.
So again, I studied communities, but from an individual level, there are so many things that we could be doing on a day-to-day basis to reduce our carbon footprint. And there’s some really great websites, so I’m not gonna repeat all that. For me personally, it’s watching my use of water, watching my use of waste, and avoiding plastic wherever possible.
It is those little things. But, I think for, especially me even going back to being a professor and a teacher, a huge part of is I don’t want to just preach it. I want you to see me doing it. And I think that when you see someone doing it, I think that has a bigger impact than me just yelling at you, “Shouldn’t be doing plastic bottles, you shouldn’t be doing whatever.” I was just reading messages from former students, and I had one of them at the end of the semester for my environmental planning class say, “Oh, I’m now using canvas bags when I go to the grocery store.” I’m like, I’m done. That was amazing. At the end of the day, there’s a change in their behavior. There’s a change. And that’s going to have that ripple effect. So for me, I see climate change from the individual level of having those little impacts. But then from a community perspective, we really got to really rethink our relationship with our land and how we plan for the future.
Alex Cumming: I find that it’s so important to understand the larger effect of it all. You know, we live in Florida where you can see the effects down in South Florida. And even up, like you said, it’s not strictly on the coast, but on the coastal areas. And the fact that there were at, you were saying five hurricanes earlier this year, I’m certain, it’s probably only going to get worse as time goes on if we let these things get out of hand, but there’s so much information out there that’s readily available for students to understand. To be uninformed is silly at this point, because there’s so much available for you to have knowledge, to know how you can make an impact, how you can reduce your footprint.
I find this younger generation, they want to get involved. These students that are in college now, they don’t want to sit on the sidelines. They want to be part of the solution because they’ve seen what inaction has gotten them. And with the information at their hands, they want to be the generation that says I didn’t sit idly by.
I was a part of the group that was there making a change for the better for the future. And because of programs like with what you teach available at almost every university now, that if you want to get into the environmental sustainability system, it’s there. And Florida is such a beautiful place to do it because there’s so much biodiversity going from South Florida up to North Florida, up to the panhandle.
Claire Connolly Knox: I think that’s what gives me hope about the next generation is that. With our generation — I say our generation, I was born in the ’70s — the environmental movement was already underway. And so for a while, there, there was this complacency that, you know, Oh, well, it’s good. It’s under control. It’s taken care of, and yeah, we’re doing things, and so I see such a renewed interest and hope in the next generation, the fact that you guys are like hitting the ground running and it makes my job easier because it’s so easy to motivate you guys.
I get the students in my environmental planning class and they’re already super involved in the community. I don’t have to require volunteer hours. They’re already doing it. They’re running the organizations, which is amazing. But I think something else you pointed at was the communication factor.
And there’s a lot of information out there. Something that we as decision makers and as communication, we need to think about how we’re communicating with the people, especially the next generation. Because just having a static website is not going to work.
So we need to make sure we’re finding you where you’re at and having those kinds of communications at that level. If anyone’s interested a book that I recommend my students read and they appreciate it, it really highlights what’s happening with climate change at various communities across the world, is called The Water Will Come by Jeff Goodall.
He was an editor for Rolling Stone magazine. So it’s very easy to read, so it makes the information and these very complex issues of climate change, very understandable. And it’s small bites of information, but it shows what’s happening at the basic community level, it highlights Miami and, places in Italy and the Maldives Islands, and all these other places.
So that’s one thing I’d recommend, but I think again with your generation it’s super exciting and super easy as a professor to be able to motivate you guys.
Alex Cumming: Going back to my senior year of high school, after the chemistry class, you took environmental science was generally the class that you moved into taught by a UCF alum here in Orlando.
We did projects. And two that stood out to me were for a week she asked us to collect every piece of trash in a bag. And so kids would walk around the high school with these bags of trash, trying to limit, to show just thew amount of waste from wrappers to cans, to just things you don’t even think about, out of sight, out of mind, but it put it there in your hand.
And another project she made us do was try to go vegetarian for a week to just see how much you consume, because we know we’re learning about ethanol and how that affects CO2 emissions. And it was just, again, the visual, because you can read about it, but seeing it, seeing that bag of trash get huge from Monday to Tuesday and you have to keep it until the following Monday, it really puts it into perspective.
Claire Connolly Knox: That’s amazing. That’s amazing. First of all, it was a required class that you had to take?
Alex Cumming: It was an elective class, but it was generally the one that you took after you finished your chemistry.
Claire Connolly Knox: Okay. When I was in high school, back in the day, I had a fight. I was one of the students who fought to get an environmental science class even offered at my high school. So it’s amazing from the ’90s until now, how that has changed it. That was just an elective that was already available for you versus where I came from. And when I was in a regular, like physical science class, I remember doing a project — a report on global warming, which is what we called it at the time, global warming. And I actually had the science teacher stopped me halfway through the report and tell me to stop and to sit down because what I was saying was all lies.
Alex Cumming: Wow.
Claire Connolly Knox: So I came from a place where that wasn’t believed, even though I’m not sure how you believe basic scientific concept. So to have that experience and it, for me, it drove, it just fueled my desire to understand why are these scientific concepts that are grounded to be such a discussion and a political dynamic?
So it’s interesting to hear your experience, versus what I experienced back in the ’90s.
Alex Cumming: So much of it, like you were saying earlier comes from that human perspective. That when somebody is driven out of their home because of rising sea levels is that they genuinely cannot live there, or an animal is forced into a city where it’s likely going to die because its environment has just been demolished — that’s that human aspect. Again, you see it with your eyes. And these are things that, 20 years ago might not have been taught in high school, but now kids know these things like they know about physical science and basic chemistry. They know the basics of species migration. They know the basics of carbon emissions, greenhouse gases, the ozone layer and how that’s being affected. And I think 20 some odd years ago, maybe the large political figure, speaking about it might’ve been Al Gore who was, you know, notoriously that was a big push that he had. And it was seen as sort of this big political issue. But now it’s gone to the local and small levels and the humanity has been brought into it. None of the humanity wasn’t in it 20 years ago. I don’t want to mince words like that, but that young people get to experience it firsthand.
Claire Connolly Knox: And I think what we’re seeing too, is that the impacts of climate change, like you said, with the people being flooded out of their homes, we’re seeing how dynamic and complex — it’s not just an environmental issue. Right? And for the longest time climate change was seen as an environmental issue. We’re now understanding that it’s an emergency management issue. It’s an urban planning issue. It is sociology, psychology, you name it. And so it’s all these different components that we’re seeing the outlying fingers of climate change going into our everyday lives. So you look at, Hurricane Harvey flooding out Houston, And granted, it was a lot of rain, but you also look at those developments that were built in flood zones that were not being adequately captured in the land use plans. For me, as a scholar and as someone who studies these plans and policies at the community level, we’ve got to do better. We can’t have outdated flood maps be impacting our decision making and our land use plans.
So for example, in my research of coastal Louisiana, we saw that a climate change, global warming and those impacts were not being adequately addressed and their comprehensive land use plans are their emergency management plans. Then we also see the 2016 Louisiana flood that happened, probably one of the most costly disasters since Sandy and before Harvey.
And what we, when we go back to look at it, we found that the communities were using 20 year old flood maps that we’re allowing people to build in flood zones. And so when you’re looking at resiliency and trying to be resilient against things like climate change, we need to make sure that, and hold our leaders accountable, that our land use plans, our emergency management plans, hazard mitigation plans are all having the most recent data and including elements of climate change into that. Because we’re going to continue to see the impacts of these disasters getting worse and worse on our communities, you know, and you were mentioning, people flooding out, repeatedly flooding out. Well, how much is that costing us taxpayers, right? At what point do we say enough? Your generation is can be continuing to pay for this. At what point do we say, you know what maybe we need to be having some forced migration and we need to be retreating from some of these areas that are not safe instead of continuing to rebuild or build new.
So I go back to my original statement of a lot of times we think of climate change is just an environmental issue. We need to follow the money. We need to look at the plans. We need to analyze these policies. Because what we currently have on the books is not adequately planning and looking at what’s going to happen from a climate change perspective. It’s very siloed. If you just look at it from an environmental perspective.
And then we talk about the socially vulnerable populations. We have individuals based because of the way our system is set up and our institutions are set up and our programs are set up, it is disproportionately disadvantaging, these different individuals. And that’s what I talk about with my book and my recent research on food insecurity. If we just continue to go with the flow and continue these programs, as they’ve been set up, we’re going to continue to disadvantage these people. And that’s not being resilient.
Alex Cumming: So you recently published a book, Cultural Competency for Emergency and Crisis Management. How did crises differ for various populations? Are there different things that need to be done in crisis management and response as it relates to specific populations? And it’s not just a one size fits all?
Claire Connolly Knox: Absolutely not a one size fits all. And I think going back to your conversation about Hurricane Katrina, some of the things that you observed are things that we look at as what you really shouldn’t do in emergency management when it comes to cultural competency.
And so we’ve come so far. What I’m excited about this book in particular is that it’s one of the first of its kind in our discipline, which says something that we’re just getting this type of book out. But what we’re learning constantly is that many portions of our population are already disadvantaged even before the storm starts.
And so what disasters do is it brings to light all those social inequities that are already underlying, their existing, but the disaster brings them to light and brings them to the surface. How do we deal with that? And it tests even the most ethical leaders.
So, with COVID-19 this latest crisis that our country is facing and the world is facing, things like food insecurity come into play. It’s thinking through and understanding that different portions of our population are going to be impacted by the disaster differently.
Alex Cumming: When I think about sort of that food insecurity, I find that most educational institutions, UCF included and going back to my high school, we had, where if you needed lunch, if you were unable to eat that day, there was a place you’d go to and you could say, “I don’t have food today. Can I please?” And they would provide, and that places like that are commonplace in almost all schools. Now food insecurity is not something that I’m as well versed in it as uncertain you are, but that it’s becoming more accessible in public institutions.
Do you see that’s positive growth going forward that it’s not this stigma?
Claire Connolly Knox: It is. And that’s a wonderful thing. But what we saw too with COVID-19 is that there was a breakdown on the food supply chain from farm to table. So you had farmers who couldn’t get their product to any of the restaurants because the restaurants are closed. They couldn’t get it to some of the grocery stores because the drivers weren’t working. And so you had, on one end, farmers who were throwing away food and wasting food until the solution was found. And then on the flip side is that you had the places like Second Harvest food banks, all the food banks and those school food supplies were empty. Those shelves were empty and it wasn’t just the farm to table supply chain that broke down, but it was also human behavior changed. Who knew toilet paper would all of a sudden?
Alex Cumming: You forgot paper towels
Claire Connolly Knox: And paper towels. Thank you for reminding me. And so there was some interesting dynamics and shifts that happened with human behavior that nobody was anticipating. So you saw that dynamic shifts happened between the farm to table, but then also just human behavior changing and we know toilet paper goes really quickly during hurricane season, but who knew during a pandemic.
And so just the whole idea of that shift happening and, so the latest, study that I was looking at really was from that top down perspective. After the 2017 hurricane season and the massive lack of response happening with Puerto Rico, FEMA and the government decided, hey, we need to change up how we think about our community lifelines in these supply chain issues and all this other stuff to make sure that we’re more resilient.
And so really this pandemic is the first test of the new process. And we’re seeing where it is failing on a couple of different perspectives. And one of it is the food insecurity issue and our study specifically looked at low income, minority, and the elderly. So those three populations that are most impacted by COVID-19 what were their issues with getting food?
And a lot of them were depending on the food banks. A lot of them were depending on those school food programs and all of those things shut down and or were lacking. So it was really interesting dynamic to see that.
Alex Cumming: When it comes to a hurricane with a pandemic, we were learning as we go, we were, walking in a in a darkened room. It was a step-by-step process. And we were slowly learning this little drip of information as we went along. And of course it’s so easy when you don’t know what’s going on to drum up hysteria that led to toilet paper going. I’m certain, if they said that, you know, Campbell’s soup was running out, people would be running out and getting as much as they can of that. With what you were saying about relying on something outside of yourself can be so tough in times like that.
Claire Connolly Knox: It is, and it’s not unknown. We’ve seen in past hurricanes where people say, Oh my goodness, they’re running out of fuel. And all of a sudden the city by noon is out of fuel. And they’re like, there wasn’t a fuel shortage, like what just happened? But it’s amazing the power of social media. It’s amazing the power of that persuasion of, Oh my goodness — something’s running out and it’s gone.
So, another thing too, I’d love to know from a student perspective, how are you thinking about preparing for the hurricane season in light of having this COVID-19 pandemic?
Alex Cumming: That’s a very good question. I like that. Getting back to this sense of normalcy that I believe we will see very much come the fall, maybe it will be more apt to stop and question and say, maybe this thing being shared on social media, I’ll pause. I’ll question it. Because just cause it’s a good looking infographic doesn’t mean it’s necessarily informational in a positive way.
I believe that it’s important to study and make sure you have multiple sources giving you proper information. So you’re not just, you get one vague friend on Facebook sharing a piece of information you say, “Oh, I’m going to run with that.” You know, one person shares, there’s a gas shortage, then more people, more people, more people.
So to have multiple sources of information giving you something that you can deem as accurate. So as a young person with this, I say just making sure the sources are correct. I’ve been a Floridian all my life so hurricane season is something that I’m mentally ready for. That I’m like, I know it’s going to happen.I know it’s going to come around, but every year it just seems to sneak up on you. And every other sort of that week, like I said earlier, we were just like, well, life will be back. We’ll take this week off because we got to stay with my family. Make sure everything’s covered, the windows are closed.
So I guess it quarantining with the family a little easier. Cause you know that for all of 2020. But other than that, I think it’s just remembering that this is, this is if you’re prepared for it you can learn from history, which I guess you could with the pandemic.
Claire Connolly Knox: Well, you said you’re mentally prepared, physically prepared. Are you ready?
Alex Cumming: That’s a good question. I’d say, I guess I’m questioning. So I have to wonder if I’m physically prepared. I personally at the moment do not have a grab-and-go bag ready at my parents’ house, but I know that where I would go back to my family home, where we got canned food, we’ve experienced it before. Our neighbor has a generator that he’s been very open to sharing and keeping people to have power on people who need it. Because on my street we have a number of elderly individuals. So we find that branching out and making sure that we’re safe so that we can be a resource because if we’re not, the oxygen mask comes down, you have to help yourself first, before you can help the other people.
So if we’re ready that we can make sure that we can be a support and lift other people up around us. So personally, no, I don’t have a grab-and-go bag, but I’m certain I can get on top of that.
Claire Connolly Knox: Well, you are like the majority of Americans so don’t feel bad. But what I will say, what I loved about your last statement is that, you know, there’s elderly in your community. You know that you’ve already in touch with them. So apparently you have a relationship, even if it’s just like a, hey waving by thing. That is what is that social capital. That is that resiliency framework that we need to make sure that we’re implementing. And so while a lot of us talk about it, that big, broad community level — it can be something as simple as your street or even your complex, if you’re in an apartment, just knowing who’s around you. And maybe there’s someone with a different ability or someone who’s elderly, or what have you. And just making sure that there’s a connection and there’s enough of a plan, even in general, like you just said, we know someone has a generator, someone has this.
I think one of the coolest things I saw observed in our neighborhood and this past, Hurricane Irma was, I just threw it out there on our Facebook HOA page, like, OK. Who has medical experience? Who has what tools? Who has a generator, kind of like a little quick laundry list of, if all goes the heck. Who has what? And everyone was like, “Oh my God, this is such a great idea.” And I’m now the token emergency manager for the group, but it was, it was just something so simple, but it was really great.
Cause there were elderly people in our neighborhood and unfortunately one had a medical emergency, but we knew there was a nurse. We knew who to call because really I think one thing we’ve seen shift in emergency management, who’s that first responder, right? It’s not the police, it’s not the fire. It’s whoever gets to you first. And that could be your neighbor. So that’s why I love so much about what you said in your last statement is that you have already started weaving together the social capital and this resiliency framework, which is amazing.
Alex Cumming: It can be so easy to, as we saw in the pandemic to turn into yourself to say, all right, this is a problem. This is just me. It’s me. And you know, governmentally mandated the people that I live with. But reaching out, extending an olive branch for people who might not have that it goes a long way from what you’ve been saying. And from what I’ve experienced firsthand. Extending an olive branch can be really what does lift somebody up, somebody who might not have that. Somebody who is turning into themselves realizes they don’t have something. They don’t have running water, oh but this house down the road does.
Claire Connolly Knox: I think too, what this pandemic has shown us, it’s the longest time we’ve ever had recovery. Actually, we haven’t gotten, gotten truly recovery the longest time we’ve had response And we’ve been in response mode. I mean, some of our emergency operations centers have been open over 400 days now, which my generation has never seen. The fact too that every emergency operations center got activated around the world like whenever we talk about hurricanes or earthquakes or anything, it’s a regional. Maybe even just like a statewide emergency. This is global.
So for our generation, this is, really the first major crisis that we’ve experienced that has lasted this long. Hurricane — like you said — shut down for a week, we’re back at it, get a little break from school. This is totally different.
This is changing so many things. And so actually I have a question back to you, with your generation having experience disaster after crisis, after disaster. You know, for my generation, we had Andrew, the Challenger space shuttle explosion, a couple of things, right. And they were spread out.
But with your generation, we’ve seen Pulse, Sandy Hook, Columbine, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, all these disasters, all these crises, we’re seeing civil protests. We’re seeing people taking over our Capitol, you know? So from your generation I don’t even know what the question could be — what are you seeing? And, how are you seeing your generation coping with some of this stuff?
Alex Cumming: I would, let’s say less coping, but resilience, understanding. Like I said, extending the olive branch, understanding that we can work to fix this. This is not a representation of who we are; that we see, and we understand, and we can grow from it. That these experiences of people who, these individuals take matters into their own hand, are not a representation of the whole generation.
And that we can be a part of the generation that changed the course, that changes things. We don’t want to sit idly by. People my age aren’t sideline players. Whether it’s through social media, whether it’s through civil protest, whether it’s through making our voices heard, it’s so easy to make your voice heard. So to not make your voice heard, well, that’s on you.
Claire Connolly Knox: And I think that’s what gives me hope. I, you know, with my generation, we, I guess depended more on the people who are already in leadership. We just kind of assumed, Oh, okay. They’ll make the change and it’ll happen. But I think what I see observing with your generation is that you’re in the fight. You’re already running for House, running for Senate. You are running for your local government. Look at the Chris Castros of the world and Orlando — the youngest resiliency and sustainability director in the United States. I mean, you guys are just, you’re going for it. And that is so exciting.
And that gives me so much hope for the next generation.
Alex Cumming: It’s daunting, but it’s exciting. It’s exciting to know that what we see, we can alter. What we like, we can keep, What we don’t we know, and we’ve seen it in effect that if something doesn’t align with the values, it can be changed. It can be changed for the better.
So what kind of impact does UCF Coastal want to have? Not only here in central Florida, but on this national scale.
Claire Connolly Knox: Address these complex issues from an interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary perspectives.
So while we are primarily focusing here in Florida with a lot of our research, what we do here is applicable across the world. I think that with UCF Coastal is that we are shaping the way research should be done in the future. If that makes sense. And again, it’s not just coastal, I mean, the entire state of Florida is coastal technically by definition. So it does include some of those extra dynamics.
With UCF Coastal, we grabbed experts from all over the world to bring here, to work together and to think through these issues from so many perspectives and not just a Florida-centric perspective, but also, international.
Alex Cumming: So I want to ask you, what do you still want to do with your field of work? What do you still want to do?
Claire Connolly Knox: I still want to change the world. Is that an acceptable answer? Oh my gosh. That was my answer when I was like 5, I want to change the world. Of course, from a practical logistical perspective, I want to write another book. I want to go after that big grant. I want to do X, Y, and Z. I don’t want to leave the classroom. I think that is something I’m not ready for that yet. Maybe later on in my career, I’ll be ready to step away from the classroom. It’d be more administrative. But there’s just something about connecting with the students.
I love learning from them. I’m always expanding and having these really cool conversations again, just like this, just to kind of see your perspective and your generational perspectives on these issues is helping me rethink some of those assumptions that I came into the profession with. And I love being able to ask those big questions.
I love being able to push the boundary on where our discipline is going and to be able to have that impact. I think back to my whole reason of going into grad school, and again, I’m a first-generation student, so the idea of grad school was like, that was, I didn’t even know that existed, until I started talking to other scientists, I’m like, what’s a Ph.D.? What do you know what’s going on?
My original intent was to get my master’s and be head of the EPA and clear house. Make all these changes. I mean, I come from an area that has cancer alley in Louisiana. I mean, it was pretty bad. And so I remember teaching my first class as a Ph.D. student and I came home crying and my husband’s like, what’s going on? I’m like, “This wasn’t Plan A. Plan A was supposed to be head of the EPA and to clear house and to make all these changes.” And he said, “Yes, true. That was Plan A, he said, but, let’s think about Plan B for a second.” And he said with Plan B, you are potentially impacting the next generation. Of all these people, all these students are going to go out at every level of government and you are changing the way they are going to think about the world. And they’re going to think about the environment and they’re going think about their communities and you have that potential to not just impact one agency, but to impact communities around the world.
And that blew me away and I’m like, okay, so plan B is not too bad. So while I’m excited about these other projects coming down the line, I really want to make sure I stay in the classroom. I love teaching. It is just — it’s hard, but it’s so rewarding. These are all my kids, you know, they’re now like running agencies and these are all my kids.
Alex Cumming: So your reach extends all over the place. So you’re finding a lot of hope, a lot of inspiration. They’re teaching you, you’re growing from them just as much as they’re going from your classroom.
Claire Connolly Knox: Yes. It’s a really cool relationship.
Alex Cumming: That’s beautiful to hear.
What advice would you give to somebody who wants to work in sustainability and emergency management?
Claire Connolly Knox: There are two pieces of advice. One is to get a mentor, especially someone in the field where you see yourself in five or 10 years. There’s something that a mentor can give you, and it can be very informal, but it’s that person who kind of helps you tie the academic stuff that you’ve been doing in your courses with what’s happening on the ground.
And so it could be something as simple as a resume review, or just thinking through a job interview process all the way thinking through leadership skills, managerial skills, work-life balance. So a mentor really is that person who is going to help guide you in that transition from your academic career to the actual profession and hopefully they’re also a cheerleader for you to help guide you through potential awards opportunities as well as other career opportunities.
The second piece of advice I would give is to get that hands-on experience. In the field, especially emergency management, just having the educational degree is not enough. You need to have experience so that can come through doing trainings, going to internships, experiential learning. So doing things in classes that you’re partnering with a community, which a lot of our programs have that embedded, but also, being engaged with the profession, realize that you don’t enter the profession once you’ve graduated, you actually should be entering as a student. And almost all of these professional associations have amazing student rates that are super cheap. And again, it’s all about networking, getting those mentors and getting that practical experience.
Alex Cumming: Well, Claire, thank you so much for your time and for joining us on the Knights Do That podcast, it’s been a pleasure getting to speak with you and getting to share perspectives. And I still look forward to hearing about the great work that your students do going forward.
Claire Connolly Knox:: Well, thank you for the opportunity. It has been fun.
Alex Cumming: Thank you so much.
So, thanks again for listening. Be sure to stream and download on whatever platform you use to listen to podcasts. I look forward to you joining me on this journey where we’ll learn how Knights are making a positive impact in our community, our nation, and the world. And hey, if you’re doing something cool, whether that’s at UCF or somewhere you took UCF that we should know about send us an email at [email protected] And maybe we’ll see you on an episode in the future.
This podcast was produced by the UCF Marketing department with music composed by College of Arts and Humanities Professor Alex Burtzos.
Go Knights! And Charge On!