Emergency Planner's Toolkit: Hannah Coffey, PMP, MBCP, Veoci

Mar 2, 2023

Back to Veoci BlogEmergency Planner's Toolkit: Hannah Coffey, PMP, MBCP, Veoci
Veoci Staff

Veoci Profiles: Hannah Coffey, PMP, MBCP

When Hannah Coffey, PMP, CBCP, joined the Veoci team, she brought with her troves of knowledge about a variety of different fields. Within a week of her starting, those at our New Haven offices had already picked her brain about Turkish bank transfers, Teslas, and how an individual can be legally classified as a corporation. As Ken Moon, one of Veoci’s co-founders put it: “Hannah could explain any kind of system in just a few sentences.”  

We talked with Hannah specifically about emergency planning: her unconventional start in the industry, how her other fields of expertise aid her in this one, and advice she would give to other emergency managers.

How did you get into emergency planning?

I arrived at emergency management via cars (horrible pun intended). Before I was anything else,  I was a mechanic. I was hired by Volkswagen AG in Tennessee when they were building their Chattanooga plant. At the time, I was a professor at the University of Tennessee for classical languages and literature. Volkswagen needed somebody who could take Polish diesel factory line manuals, compiled by Germans, and make them readable by down-to-earth, good ol’ boys who actually made things run in Tennessee.

It was the ultimate “put Humpty Dumpty back together again” job. I transitioned into more heavy industry technical writing at that point and metamorphosed into environmental and industrial work in the Mid-East, Turkey, and the Balkans.

After a couple of years, an Emergency Management company approached me and asked me if I was interested in writing this thing called a Hazard Mitigation Plan. They had won it in December and it was due in July. They had four people on staff. The plan was for the entire state of Tennessee. It was an 800+ page document requiring hours of research and GIS mapping. I couldn’t resist.

How did the Hazard Mitigation Plan go?

It was FEMA-approved almost immediately; primarily because I had an amazing business partner who lead the project, Tony Gertz. But we worked 80-hour averages some work weeks.

What did you like about that process?

Emergency Management synthesizes a huge amount of data, requiring it to be married to real world principals and planning. Fundamentally I’m a translator and a language person. I come from three generations of drivers, aviators, technicians, and interpreters. It allowed me to translate all these concepts into real-life application.

You then developed Emergency Operations Plans (EOP) and Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) primarily. What does that look like?

It’s interesting. I’d say the two are very different. An EOP is about putting out the fire, right? Putting out the fire is relatively straightforward and usually involves making a grand mess. But standing back up after you’ve been knocked down is hard. Continuity plans are about standing back up and acting normal. It’s like being a boxer in the ring or a pianist in a recital and making a mistake. When you make a mistake, you can’t stop. You have to keep going. That’s what a continuity plan is. You have to drill down into what is essential to maintain normal operations.

"The cool thing about COOPs is that you start to make work visible to everyone. COOPs inherently develop institutional transparency and resilience at the same time."

COOPs are also elegant motion. They’re a set of spare car keys. They mean talking about your daily life and describing it accurately. What do you do every day on a “sky blue” Tuesday? When you think about it, you do a lot. Your boss probably doesn’t even know all you get done. The cool thing about COOPs is that you start to make work visible to everyone COOPs inherently develop institutional transparency and resilience at the same time.

EOPs are flashy and sexy. They’re the sports car of emergency planning. But COOPs are the Toyotas. They keep you going. They’re going to be there for you. That’s why they need to be checked often and maintained at least somewhat regularly.

What are you doing currently with Veoci? How are you translating your past experience into what you do now?

Translating is exactly the right word. There’s an Italian phrase: Traduttore, traditore. The translator is inherently a traitor. You can never translate something perfectly, right? If I say something in Turkish, there is often no perfect equivalent in English and vice versa. So when you bring knowledge from a prior job to another one, there are going to be things that don’t translate perfectly.

That’s the fun part, actually: reconciling the differences in the languages. From my prior experience, I know that COOPs need to be simple. We need to develop dead-easy ways for people to keep going through the lifecycle of planning.

"We can use one thing, Veoci, to do everything."

I’m taking the already almost-infinite toolbox Veoci has, a mechanic’s dream come true, and building out the entire planning lifecycle. For every state, for every set of requirements, whether it’s a Minnesota crosswalk or a Texas reverse evacuation annex, I’m taking what I learned and translating it, albeit imperfectly, into a now complete lifecycle of planning. We can use one thing, Veoci, to do everything.

As someone with an emergency planning background, what in Veoci stands out to you?

I deploy with Team Rubicon and I’m a Wilderness First Responder EMT. When you go into a literal disaster in life, everything is imperfect. Nothing’s going to work the way you thought it would. What I love about Veoci is that it’s built to adapt to the imperfect, like we are. My husband says this: “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good.” I really love that.

"When life becomes a disaster, you need something that’s really resilient. Veoci is prepared for things to just break."

In Veoci we have forms that work offline, and when life comes back and you recover, they upload. Your COOP or EOP is still very much playing out in real life even though you don’t have good connectivity. We have ways to reduce the paperwork burden for getting your money back through the Public Assistance (PA) process. Instead of waiting 18 to 24 months, people who use Veoci to file for FEMA reimbursements and have their After-Action Reports (AAR) all built out, wait a lot less time because it's automated and we collect all the data on the front-end of the event. Our SITREPS track in real time what you are doing so you don’t have to.

When life becomes a disaster, you need something that’s really resilient. Veoci is prepared for things to just break. That’s what I love. I can assemble all the pieces the way I need as a mechanic at any stage in the game.

Do you have any advice for emergency planners?

You’ll never get it right, and that’s okay. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good, truly. We’re never going to get it all right. Much like tuning an engine, best practices evolve from trial and error.

"Complacency is deadly in emergency management."

And don’t try to be the smartest one in the room. It’s really hard when you live in a heavily-regulated environment, where you’re supposed to be reading all the time, getting regulations right, you’re worried about torts and litigation. Emergency Managers live under enormous pressure. It’s very easy for us to want to be the correct ones.

But I chose to work with Veoci because I knew I wouldn’t be the smartest one here. And that’s great. If you’re the smartest person in the room you aren’t learning. You’re bored, and that equals complacency. Complacency is deadly in emergency management. Surround yourself with people who challenge you and prevent complacency.

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