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Ashland City Councilor appointed to FEMA advisory council

ASHLAND — Ashland City Councilor Tonya Graham is one of 12 appointees to the Federal Emergency Management Agency National Advisory Council, the agency announced Tuesday.

Tonya Graham

The National Advisory Council advises the FEMA administrator regarding “all aspects of emergency management to ensure input from and coordination with state, local and tribal governments and the private sector on federal plans, programs, and strategies for all hazards,” according to a FEMA news advisory. The 12 appointees — 10 new appointments and two re-appointments — began multi-year terms Wednesday.

Graham said she felt honored to be invited to serve as an advisor and represent the interests of a municipality while FEMA refines, develops and adapts community resilience and recovery strategies. Her term of appointment concludes in 2024.

“FEMA is going to have an outsized impact on the ability of communities across the nation to prepare for and respond to the natural disasters that are accelerating due to the climate crisis,” Graham said. “I think it’s important that they have folks helping to advise them who are living in places where the risk is accelerating, and who are dealing with budget constraints and the realities of local government in smaller communities.”

A council of 35 total members, including elected officials, emergency managers and emergency responders, guides recommendations focused on equity, climate change and readiness, the FEMA news advisory said. A recent change to the council’s charter allowed for the inclusion of a climate specialist among new members. NAC members come from 21 states in the continental U.S., plus Guam, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

“NAC members are significant contributors to advancing FEMA’s mission and provide unique, survivor-centric perspectives from across government and community,” said Administrator Deanne Criswell.

The NAC’s annual report in November 2020 defined a long term vision focused on equity, “embracing data-driven and risk-informed decision-making,” coordination among governments, private entities and community- and faith-based organizations, and adaptability.

Graham said she was drawn to the agency’s commitment to investigating ease of access for their programs with different populations and how various community vulnerabilities apply, complementing the city of Ashland’s formalized commitment to incorporate equity into operations systematically over time.

“In addition to dealing with disasters, FEMA is taking a hard look at how their programs and processes relate to equity,” Graham said of her motivation to apply in April. “That combination of needing to develop programs that are good for local government and also are equitable, had a lot of appeal to me.”

Local wildfire preparedness work — while significant in recent years — is only beginning, Graham said, and Ashland will continue needing federal assistance to reduce risk effectively.

“There’s a heightened awareness in a lot of Western communities, particularly about the risk of wildfire,” Graham said. “FEMA is going to be a major partner in figuring out the best approaches and how to finance them.”

As the only member from Oregon, Graham invited other local government officials and leaders to submit thoughts they want considered while she serves in this role with the NAC.

The 2021 NAC appointees include Graham, who also works as Executive Director for the Geos Institute, and Kathy Baughman McLeod, Senior Vice President for Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center at the Atlantic Council, Arlington, Virginia, who will serve as the NAC’s first climate specialist.

The NAC also plans to advertise a dedicated climate-focused position during the 2022 application period.

“This new position serves as an excellent opportunity for our nation’s most innovative and forward-thinking leaders in the climate space to step forward and pursue a chance to influence the way we build resilience in communities nationwide,” Criswell said.

Other NAC members include Jody Ferguson, Director of the Pierce County Office of Emergency Management in Tacoma, Wash.; Tim Gleason, City Manager of Bloomington, Illin.; Jim Gore, County Supervisor of Sonoma County, Calif.; Brian Hastings, Director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency; Ramesh Kolluru, Vice President for Research, Innovation, and Economic Development at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette; Ryan Lanclos, Director of Public Safety Solutions and Disasters in Conroe, Tex.; Kelly McKinney, Assistant Vice President of NYU Langone Health; Paula Pagniez, Director of the Climate and Resilience Hub in New York; Brad Richy, Director of the Idaho Office of Emergency Management; and Brian Strong, Chief Resilience Officer for San Francisco, Calif.