Alumni Spotlight

Alyssa Pollock, Regional Disaster Officer

Alyssa Pollock MS serves as the Regional Disaster Officer for the American Red Cross Central & Southern Illinois Region.  In this role, she leads Disaster Cycle Services, including Preparedness, Response, and Recovery programs for a seventy-eight county region in Illinois, northeast Missouri, and southeast Iowa.  During her 12-year Red Cross career, Alyssa has deployed to disaster relief operations in Florida, Louisiana, Illinois, New York, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Saipan to assist in the management of the Red Cross disaster response.  In July 2014, she was appointed to the inaugural American Red Cross North Central Division Response Management Team as an Assistant Director of Operations.  She also served as the Disaster Case Management Chair for Tri-County Long Term Recovery in the aftermath of the November 2013 Illinois tornadoes.

Alyssa holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Eureka College and a Master of Science in Emergency Management degree from Millersville University of Pennsylvania.  In 2013, she participated in a Millersville University study abroad opportunity in Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa.  The focus of her study abroad experience was to learn emergency management in South Africa in comparison to emergency management in the United States.  As part of her master’s degree program, Alyssa completed her capstone project on Recovery - researching, writing, and implementing a complete Recovery program for her Red Cross region.

Current Position

"My current position is the Regional Disaster Officer for the American Red Cross of Central & Southern Illinois.  In this role, I lead a team of 9 employees and about 2000 volunteers to implement Preparedness, Response, and Recovery programs in a 78-county region.  Our programs include youth preparedness education, free smoke alarm installations in at-risk neighborhoods, response to home fires and larger disasters, and supporting community and individual long-term recovery.  I oversee the management of these programs according to the metrics and goals established by our national organization, develop leadership volunteers, ensure that Red Cross services are provided to home fire clients on a daily basis, and oversee partner relationship management between my staff and our government and nongovernment partners.  During times of larger disasters, I serve as the Red Cross leader for the disaster operation in our region and ensure that the Red Cross response meets the needs of our clients and partners through feeding, sheltering, bulk distribution, health and mental health, and casework services. 

"Outside of my position requirements, I have additional emergency management experience.  I also serve on the American Red Cross North Central Division Response Management Team as an Assistant Director of Operations, which is the Red Cross equivalent of an Operations Section Chief on a FEMA IMAT team.  In addition, I have direct experience working with long-term recovery groups and most recently served as the Disaster Case Management committee chair for the 2013 Washington, IL tornado recovery.  I have spoken on emergency management topics at various conferences, taught a Bradley University OLLI Lifelong Learning course on disaster response, and lectured in a Midstate College emergency management course for business students."

 Why Chose Millersville's MSEM Program?

"Overall, I think the way that the MSEM program has helped my career growth is that it has given me a competitive edge and set me apart from my peers.  Over the last few years, the Red Cross has undergone some reorganization and consolidations.  Throughout these transitions, I have been progressively given positions of greater responsibility.  As very few of my peers have advanced degrees, especially not in emergency management, I know that my MSEM degree has set me apart.  With my MSEM degree, I have also gained enhanced credibility in working with national, state, and local partners.

"I’d also like to provide a couple of specific examples that illustrate how I’m able to use what I learned in my MSEM coursework.  In August 2015, I had the opportunity to deploy to Saipan for Typhoon Soudelor.  Although Saipan is a U.S. territory, the culture, housing construction, and recovery needs were quite different from a response on the mainland.  Throughout my deployment, I found myself drawing upon my study abroad experience in South Africa with the MSEM program to help me think about how to best meet the needs of this diverse population.  My second example is the 2013 Washington, IL tornado response and recovery.  Washington is within my Red Cross region, so I was involved from beginning to end as the local Red Cross contact for the early response to long-term recovery.  Throughout the two-year recovery process, I often drew upon what I learned in the Social Vulnerability in Disasters and Disaster Mental Health MSEM courses to help me anticipate the unique needs of women, children, minorities, and the elderly and provide early interventions to community recovery problems like an increase in domestic violence and divorce rates.

"One of the main differences between the Millersville MSEM program and other similar programs is that the Millersville program takes an all-hazards approach.  Other programs may focus just on terrorism or just on the fire service.  Through the required courses and the ability to choose electives in my area of interest, I think the Millersville program offers both a well-rounded curriculum and the opportunity to focus on topics that benefit the student.  As a graduate of the Millersville program, I think I am more prepared and more marketable for a variety of jobs within emergency management rather than just one type of position. 

"My experience during the program also sets it apart.  I loved the fact that the faculty encouraged critical thinking and writing, as those are both important competencies for emergency management practitioners.  In addition, the combination of online synchronous class meetings and the out-of-class work and discussion boards was well-suited for a working professional.  Even though we were all online students in this program and I lived in another state, I felt that faculty were very responsive and gave me personal attention when necessary.  The opportunity to do an independent study and go on a study abroad trip to study emergency management in South Africa was an experience that I’m not sure I would have had at another university."

Advice for Prospective Students

"A degree in emergency management is absolutely worth the investment of time and money.  I’m very proud of my achievement, and as I’ve mentioned, the knowledge and experience I gained in the MSEM program serves me well in my career.  Also, one of my biggest reservations going into the program was what to do if I had to deal with a major disaster at work while I was taking MSEM courses.  I did have two major disasters in my area while I was an MSEM student, and the Millersville faculty worked with me to help me stay on track and take extensions when I had to do so.  My advice is that if you work in an emergency management position while you take classes, make sure you choose a program in which the faculty will work with you in this capacity."