Jenna Chang assumed the role of installation emergency manager for Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany in 2020. She brought with her a wealth of knowledge and experience.
This knowledge is good to have on a military installation with its fair share of exposure to natural disasters.
A constitutional history major at San Diego Christian College, Chang had ambitions of going into public safety.
“I was going to be a career firefighter,” she said. “I later realized this was not feasible.”
Chang then worked as a contractor with the State of California Homeland Security Office. She was able to bring her existing emergency management skills to the table and build upon them.
“In 2005, 2006 I came into the field with a lot of opportunity,” she said. “I got to work with some talented and experienced people.”
“Exercise and training opportunities offered a huge depth of experience in a short amount of time. I gained a working knowledge of so many aspects,” she continued.
Chang gained working knowledge of dealing with pandemics, anti-terrorism measures and crisis communication within a tight window.
“In eight years I got a career full of experience,” Chang said.
She worked in the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security, implementing its state school safety program, and I was also a state duty officer. Response to hazardous material, bomb threats and planning and operations were among her skill sets further developed in this job.
“The gap (in my background) was in public health,” Chang said. “I gained this experience in Georgia. It was not for me, but I was exposed to a lot of good people in that field. I traveled through the state and was led to Albany, and I applied for emergency operations.”
Chang became the emergency management specialist for Albany and Dougherty County. She has been able to cut her teeth on presidentially-declared natural disasters in Albany, among them a strong straight-line wind event on Jan. 2, 2017, an EF3 tornado on Jan. 22, 2017 and Hurricane Michael on Oct. 10, 2018.
These incidents allowed her to spread her wings.
“I learned from these storms that you can never be too prepared,” Chang said. “If something feels like it’s off, trust it. There is a reason for it.”
“We have prepared for things we said would never happen, and they happened,” she added.
Her first day working as an emergency management specialist for the city of Albany was a day after the tornado. The twister ripped through mobile homes in the community before causing millions in damages to the industrial sector of MCLB Albany on its 70-mile path.
“The emergency operations center was at full tilt for three weeks,” Chang said. “These folks knew what to do. It was my first day on that job, but not my first day in the field overall. If it had been, I would not have made it.”
Tropical Storm Irma came through Albany in September 2017 after weakening substantially from Category 5 status. Then Hurricane Michael came in October 2018.
“Nobody thought a Category 3 hurricane could possibly come 180 miles inland,” Chang recalled. “The tracks were going straight through Albany and people thought we were crazy for thinking that would happen.”
An accident cut off phone contact with the EOC for 48 hours during the disaster response efforts following the hurricane.
“Assessing damage and conveying damage to the state and Federal Emergency Management Agency with no communication was a difficult task,” Chang said. “There was no working water.”
“We leveraged our experience and relationships with other emergency managers to get FEMA and the state to understand how bad it was,” she recalled.
The aftermath of Michael was a complete breakdown of systems, so that left the emergency management team in the position of making some tough decisions.
“We had to prioritize resources,” Chang recalled. “There were more people who needed help than people who we could provide to.”
Much of this depended on finding what Chang refers to as the “balance of caring.”
“You care about every individual, but not too much. If you do you will burn out,” Chang said. “You also have to allocate resources for your staff; what you deal with, they deal with.”
The emergency manager position soon opened up at MCLB Albany. She came into the job having experience working with Steven Dancer, director, Operations and Training Division, MCLB Albany.
“I always told Steve if the opportunity to work for him came up, I’d take it,” Chang said. “I have worked with him and appreciate his style and leadership. I appreciate the opportunity to work for him.”
Dancer said Chang is an essential member of the MCLB Albany Operations and Training Division, ensuring the installation is always prepared to respond to a natural or man-made incident.
“Chang assumed the position during the COVID-19 pandemic and has kept her fingers on the pulse and allowed the command to maintain situational awareness of the medical capabilities in the local area, regionally and within the state,” he said. “Chang presented an innovative solution to ensure 2021 National Preparedness Month was a success.”
The pandemic put the brakes on the annual preparedness fair in 2020, but Chang did not allow the base population to be without vital resources the following year. She created bags to hand out at the Child Development Center and in housing in lieu of an in-person gathering.
“Chang continues to improve the overall emergency management program through hard work and a mindset that ‘things can always be improved,’" Dancer said.
The decision to come to MCLB Albany was not just about Dancer.
“I felt I could do some good here at the base and I like feeling like I can contribute to something,” Chang said.
Chang has learned from her line of work the importance of taking advantage of the “blue sky days” that can be used to prepare before disaster strikes. Such preparation involves the proper training for those who need it and getting the needed resources in place.
“Everything is going as expected on those days,” she said. “Those are the days we capitalize to make sure training is current and everyone understands their roles in a disaster.”
Every event has different circumstances and challenges, but there is one thing all of them have in common.
“With every disaster we learn what to replicate and what to do differently,” Chang said. “You know and understand the plan and understand you will have to be flexible and act on the fly for things you never considered.”
Working in her role at MCLB Albany with her background gives her the ability to work in the base’s EOC with confidence.
“I already know what the worst-case scenario looks like,” Chang said. “It can get worse than Michael, but the average incident is much smaller. Here we work as a team rather than on my own; there is consistent camaraderie within the field.”
Ultimately an EOC exists to help make sure proper preparations are in place before disaster strikes, and to ease the burden from these incidents as much as possible. This ranges from passing out preparedness literature, conducting multiple exercises and drills throughout the year and providing the EOC as a single point for multiple divisions to station their watch officers and bring forth a unified response in the event of an emergency.
This applies to the EOC on MCLB Albany.
“The purpose of emergency management is to help employees of the base prepare as much as possible for potential hazard,” Chang said. “Our job is to make things less terrible, and making the jobs of our first responders easier by taking on the administrative headache so they can focus on response.”
“We also make sure employees know what to do for their families. The more prepared they are the more likely they know what to do. This is part of our resiliency effort for the base,” she added.