From the time I was 9-years-old, I wanted to be a meteorologist. I can remember the event that triggered my interest in the weather – Hurricane Andrew, as it crossed South Florida, leaving homes, businesses and lives in tatters. I was fascinated that we, as a country, knew this storm was coming, and there was nothing that the citizens of South Florida could do, other than board up their windows, load up their cars with valuable and sentimental possessions and drive to safety.
I remember the aftermath as well. I remember reading the issue of World Magazine (now National Geographic Kids) that covered Hurricane Andrew, and seeing images of kids who were my age, digging through their dismantled homes to find toys, books and other possessions. As a 5th grader, who spent much of the spring, summer and fall at our Jersey Shore home, I found it very upsetting to imagine being in that situation. I decided then that I wanted to do everything I could to understand and to help people prepare for these events, and becoming a meteorologist was my way of doing that.
I never thought I'd wind up in the insurance industry. My dream for the remainder of middle school and high school was to study weather in college, and then go work in Miami at the National Hurricane Center (NHC). During my undergrad years at Rutgers University, I was incredibly lucky to have inspiring professors, who not only communicated with the public about weather and climate risks, but were also were able to cultivate a whole new generation of scientific minds. So, my aspirations changed course. As I approached my senior year, I applied to numerous graduate programs, in the hope of getting my Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science, and becoming a professor.
I ultimately did get my Ph.D., from the University of Maryland, but my time at Maryland, where I was more engrained with the faculty, also made me realize that it's a long road to tenure and teaching. I wanted to harness my communication skills and apply my scientific knowledge to real world situations, not be in a lab doing research for the first decade of my career. So when I was approached by a headhunter who was looking to fill a role at Swiss Re, I thought, "Why not?" The job of an Atmospheric Perils Specialist sounded interesting, and seemed to afford me the opportunity to work in an applied science field.
If I knew then what I know now, when approached for the job, I'd have thought, "Absolutely interested!" instead of "Why not?" My initial less than enthusiatic thought process demonstrates why an initiative like the inaugural Insurance Career Month is so important. In the last eight years, I have seen first-hand the innovation, importance and influence of the insurance industry in the lives of individuals, businesses and governments. Solutions I have worked on have provided liquidity to cash-strapped nations in the Caribbean and South Pacific in the wake of natural disasters, women entrepreneurs in Haiti the opportunity to purchase insurance and hurricane protection to US Gulf Coast states. I have worked on and spearheaded projects I feel passionate about, such as an analysis of a recurrence of the 1821 Norfolk Long Island hurricane and a climate risk assessment for the City of New York, where I currently live, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
But most significantly, working in the insurance industry given me the opportunity me to find my voice, and communicate to the public the risk that natural disasters, including hurricanes, and climate change pose to our communities and societies. I believe that working in this industry allowed me to become the professional that 9-year old me wanted to be. I hope I've made that little girl proud.
Category: Climate/natural disasters: Climate change, Disaster risk, Floods/storms, Resilience
Location: Lavallette, NJ, United States