During the COVID-19 pandemic, many careers are deemed essential — from medical staff to those who work in oil and gas. One career that has been amplified by this pandemic is emergency management.
As the manager of the San Jacinto College Office of Emergency Management, Ali Shah is busier than ever.
"Our office oversees all operations during an emergency," Shah said. "We work closely with the police department, the college Chancellor, technology, facilities services, including cleaning staff, and the college community as a whole. My job is to manage all of that and make sure the pieces are moving as smoothly as possible, streamline the procedure of people coming on campus, and offer a high level guidance on processes."
Shah, a graduate of Houston Community College, was a firefighter and paramedic before becoming a San Jac emergency medical technician adjunct instructor in 2009 and ultimately being named the EMT program director. His emergency field and instructor experience creates a unique perspective as an emergency manager.
"Feedback is very important to the work I do," said Shah. "I have daily meetings with the campus operations section, made up of administration from each department across the college to share updates on what is or isn't working well. As a group, we come up with a plan that may seem logical to us, but once it's put into place, we need to know how it worked for those who are living it every day."
It's that feedback that Shah takes into consideration when making calls on what can or cannot happen during crises.
"It is sometimes a challenge to balance what is meant as good intentions with the longer-term effects of an incident," Shah said. "It is so refreshing how many people across San Jacinto College are invested in the success of our students. It becomes a happy challenge to temper that with the proper recommendations for whatever we are dealing with."
The same level of input is as important to Shah during a mass crisis like the pandemic and smaller local situations.
"It's always surprising to me the level of trust that my executive leadership has in me. It's refreshing to know that the decisions I make are backed up by those around me," Shah said. "If I recommend something, they take me at my word."
That trust is well-earned. Shah came into the role of emergency manager two days before the onslaught of Hurricane Harvey, thrusting him into a quick learning curve.
"About a week before I started, I met with our safety director about a transition plan for me to leave my program director position and move to emergency management," Shah said. "All of that changed when Harvey altered its course. My first day on the job and Harvey's landfall were one and the same. It was quite a trial by fire."
Aside from major and minor crisis response, Shah is also a large proponent of emergency preparedness.
"When people think of the office of emergency management, they think of some top-secret dark room with fancy equipment, but it is quite the opposite," Said Shah. "We have an open, forward-facing department. A lot of our work in based on education and outreach. It can't be stressed enough that learning the procedures before something happens is the best way to be prepared."
Learn more about campus safety.