Angie Lindsey is an assistant professor of family, youth and community sciences working within the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education. She is also the UF/IFAS point of contact for the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN).
How many years have you been with UF/IFAS?
I came back to UF for my PhD in 2008, so 13 years.
Your background is in nonprofit work. How has that influenced your research?
In nonprofits, you have limited resources, limited time—limited everything. Having worked in that realm for so long, my mind goes to solving problems, meeting needs, filling gaps. For that reason, my research is very applied. With my research, I feel like I’m always asking, “How is this going to help?”
How would you describe the work you do?
Unusual! When people find out I’m a professor, they ask, “What do you teach?” and I don’t have a formal teaching appointment at the university, but I teach workshops and trainings. I’m a bit of a chameleon. I can be out in communities doing research with people impacted by disasters; or helping in communities who have been impacted by disasters. For example, during Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Michael, I was deployed to the incident command posts for each storm, working with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Emergency Support Function 17, which coordinates assistance for livestock, agriculture, horticulture, wildlife and pets. In those situations, I’m working with all sorts of stakeholders, organizations and agencies, connecting them with UF resources and Extension, working with volunteers, and responding to needs in impacted areas. With Hurricane Irma, I remember assisting with coordinating a drop off of hay for livestock on farms that had been flooded and working with folks in the UF College of Veterinary Medicine who were rescuing animals in the Florida Keys. In all these situations, I’m leaning on the local Extension agents as boots on the ground, another reason why our Extension network is so important.
What was the first hurricane you dealt with and how did it affect you?
About a week after I became point of contact for the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) Hurricane Matthew hit, but that was not close to the impact of Hurricane Irma or Michael. Hurricane Irma was a real trial by fire for me. It was the first time I was deployed with Emergency Support Function 17 to an incident command post. So much of the state was affected – In Collier County, there was severe wind damage; and in Jacksonville, major flooding. Everyone was suffering from different impacts. During Hurricane Irma, I met a lot of people in Extension that I may not have met otherwise, but thank heavens I met them, because they were lifesavers in assisting with recovery efforts.
As you mentioned, hurricanes response is a team effort. How have you seen teams come together to help after a disaster?
I’ve heard it said before that our Extension agents are information first responders. They are going to do whatever they have to do to help out in their communities and the people they work with. One positive with working with disasters is watching communities come together to help one another and this is especially true of UF/IFAS. After a disaster has impacted our state, people from other parts of the state, from staff to faculty to administrators, will call and ask, “What can I do to help? Where do I need to be?” and then pack up a vehicle with supplies and go to where they’re needed.
What is something you will always remember about your experience with Hurricane Michael?
I was up in the area for about a week after Hurricane Michael hit. For the first few days, I was in Tallahassee, where the incident command post was located—usually they put those in the heart of the affected area, but Michael was so severe, it just wasn’t possible. A little later I was able to get to Jackson County and I’ll always remember talking to our people who were personally impacted. The devastation was everywhere, and it was heartbreaking. Just driving down a street and think, “Wow, a house used to be here, and now it’s totally gone.” There is a great deal of forested area in that part of Florida, and the trees looked like someone had come with a big chainsaw and cut them all down at the same point. Our faculty and staff were dealing with a lot of personal impacts, on top of trying to do their jobs. It was really tough as I never felt I was doing enough to help everyone. However, this was a pivotal moment for me because it brought home the importance of our teams, our coworkers and our leaders during these events. We can make a difference. I’ll always remember Pete Vergot, the director of the UF/IFAS Extension Northwest District, checking on every single one of his people who were in the path of the storm. He was committed to making sure people were okay. That will always stick with me.
What are you working on right now?
Something that’s sometimes left out of disaster preparation and recovery is attention to mental health. This was a gap that became apparent after Hurricanes Irma and Michael and was also a focus of mine when I was working with Gulf communities affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. With disasters, we have a lot of resources to help people with their homes, their farms, but not how to recover psychologically and emotionally from disaster.
To help address this need, Heidi Radunovich, associate professor of family, youth and community sciences, and I have developed a mental health workshop that includes the Mental Health First Aid training program developed by the National Council for Behavioral Health. We’ve been taking it around the state to Extension agents, county health departments, nonprofits, first responders and other community members. The goal is to provide mental health tools and resources so that those that are working in response and recovery after disasters can better address mental health needs. Now we’re taking the course online so we can reach more people—it should be available by fall.