A CELS Degree Helping to Respond to National Crises

RADM_Mary_E_Landry_USCG-smallRear Admiral Mary Landry was sponsored by the Coast Guard from ’94-’95 to pursue a Master’s degree in Marine Affairs from the University of Rhode Island. After completing her degree, she responded to some of our nation’s most critical environmental disasters and was appointed to a year-long assignment at the White House. “The older I get,” said Landry “the more I treasure the connection to URI, both the degree and the people I met and continue to meet.”

In describing her time at URI, Landry emphasized the diversity of students. According to Landry, having classes with people from science, federal, and state backgrounds really added to the discussions. Moreover, outstanding professor credentials worked to bring outside experiences into the classroom. According to Landry, her degree didn’t just give her book knowledge, but also real-world marine safety know-how. “I am ever grateful to them for that,” said Landry. “I have carried so much of it with me, it is unbelievable.”

After graduating, Landry encountered multiple events that tested her knowledge of hazards management. While serving the Coast Guard in Boston, she helped lead the Marine Safety Office through the 9/11 attacks. Later in her career, she directed responses to the Buzzard’s Bay and Deep Water Horizon oil spills in 2003 and 2010 respectively, as well as 2012’s superstorm Sandy.

These national-scale events, claim Landry, require knowledge outside of anyone’s learned specialty. “It’s an all hazards preparedness and response,” said Landry. “When we worked on Sandy, they [FEMA] had to pull together a lot of different people to work outside the box. Even our Coast Guard Strike Teams were helping the Army Corps of Engineers pump out the battery tunnel. These were pretty much all-hands-on-deck events.”

From these experiences, Landry gained significant expertise in hazard management which led her to a 2013-2014 White House appointment. Over the course of this post, Landry served as the National Security Council’s Senior Director for Resilience Policy. “It was a group of wicked smart people,” said Landry. “It was great work and a wonderful honor.”

While on the Council, Landry focused on pre-emptive measures and response work stemming from a Presidential Directive designed to strengthen national preparedness and resilience. This encompassed prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery actions, along with resolving interagency policy issues. In particular, Landry worked to address issues such as hospital resiliency, national flood mitigation standards, and future climate adaptation needs. The daily questions which drove Landry’s efforts included “How do you work with all of these departments and agencies to run programs efficiently and effectively? And in a crisis, how do you get subways running, get Wall Street back online, get everything going?”

From the White House, Landry returned to her position in the Coast Guard, where she continues to build out incident management capabilities. Although she admits the U.S. needs to continue improving its disaster response, she remains proud of America’s abilities. “We have an amazing capacity in this country to organize and respond to crisis,” said Landry. “My proudest moments are the successes I’ve experienced in responding and recovering from disasters. I would say this country is unmatched in our ability to respond.”