Steven Torrence’s year in Georgetown’s Emergency & Disaster Management executive program took him to London, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. But it was the trip to Louisiana and the tiny Isle de Jean Charles that weighed on him most.
Because of sea-level rise, the Gulf Coast island is shrinking, inexorably, in what Torrence called a slow-moving disaster.
It’s not just that the island has lost land—more than 95 percent since the 1950s—it’s losing a culture as well: that of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe that has hunted and fished there for generations. And it confirmed for Torrence something he had always believed: that emergency and disaster work is ultimately about people—listening to people, supporting them, and helping them maintain a semblance of hope and dignity even in the most difficult circumstances.
“It’s easy to read that in a book,” said Torrence, a 2014 graduate of the Executive Master’s in Emergency & Disaster Management program. “It’s harder to ignore when you are having those conversations with people in their community.”
A native of Southern California, Torrence is now Emergency Services Administrator for the City of Santa Monica.
Many visitors to Santa Monica might be surprised to learn that more than 10 percent of its citizens live below the poverty line. Torrence, of course, is well aware of this fact, and that’s why, when the city started a major COVID-related food distribution program, it set up a permanent walk-through pantry for residents without cars.
But whether they arrive on foot, by bus, or in the late-model cars of newly unemployed professionals, Torrence says his job is supporting them all, even as he pays particular attention to the most vulnerable.
“As an emergency manager,” Torrence said, “my job is to protect people who have, and people who have not.”