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Patricia McGowan Discusses Supporting Disaster Survivors During the Recovery Process

Headshot of Patricia McGowan

Patricia McGowan (Patty) works with Tetra Tech’s Disaster Recovery team as a case manager and insurance recovery cost data manager, assisting disaster survivors during the recovery process.

As a case manager, Patty serves as the point of contact between disaster survivors, the state, and federal stakeholders. She works directly with grant applicants to guide them through the application process. Patty practices transparency throughout the application review stage, keeping survivors updated as their materials are reviewed by the funding agencies. Following approval, Patty reviews and confirms all benefits are paid to the disaster survivor. She believes post-disaster recovery becomes a community effort involving local, state, and federal agencies and it’s important to work for a company like Tetra Tech that will care to save lives and the environment. Patty believes the disaster recovery process is essential to giving closure to disaster survivors and those supporting their communities.

Patty graduated from Pasadena City College with an associate’s degree in general studies in 2005. She later joined the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) where she worked as an Emergency Management Specialist, specializing in disaster recovery. As a former FEMA employee, Patty was recognized for assisting individuals with federal funding approval through the FEMA Individual Assistance and Public Assistance Program; Insurance Cost Recovery Program; Other Needs Assistance Program; and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act fund. She also volunteered to educate and assist various FEMA departments to expedite disaster survivor assistance.

She has acted as a first responder following natural disasters to set up emergency phone lines, record information regarding locations of FEMA disaster recovery centers, and offered local referrals. Patty had the privilege of being the voice of FEMA during Hurricane Maria and Irma by translating the individual assistance application and Act of Privacy of 1974 from English to Spanish and creating standard operating procedures (SOP) to minimize the complexity of the intake process. As she moved to different FEMA departments, she continued to support recipients of disaster recovery services by translating SOPs to increase clarity of programs. In January 2019, Patty joined Tetra Tech to continue her career in disaster recovery.


What inspired you to get into the field of disaster recovery?

I began my journey as an emergency management specialist for FEMA in 2016 working closely with Alex Amparo, deputy assistant administrator for FEMA. Prior to joining FEMA, I had admired his work and dedication to helping disaster survivors. By watching his interviews, reading his articles, and directly working with Alex, I gained an understanding of what a truly caring person does to help someone recovering from a disaster from beginning to end. In the wake of Hurricane Matthew in 2016, I was able to apply the lessons learned and ethical practices to help community members through the recovery process. I love what I do because it enables me to serve someone who truly needs the help. 


Tell us about some of the projects you’ve worked on at Tetra Tech that have been the most inspirational to you.

I believe each of Tetra Tech’s Disaster Recovery projects is crucial because we are helping people recover from events that oftentimes cause emotional and financial hardships. While working on recovery services for California’s wildfires, I’ve learned each fire is unique and complex. We must be flexible to adapt to different client needs as we work to mitigate the impacts after every disaster.

One of the most memorable projects was the Thomas Wildfires. The fires occurred during the holiday season, and many families affected had prepared their homes for Christmas with festive lights, trees, and gifts. It was an extremely devastating time for the survivors, so we prioritized taking time with each survivor. Despite the tragedy of losing their homes overnight, they showed so much gratitude for the final efforts of the recovery team—Tetra Tech employees, the state, and FEMA. In my work, I’ve seen experience from previous roles come full circle in my current role. While I worked with FEMA, I issued funeral assistance for those in the fires. Now I get to speak to the survivors of those same fires, but this time there is joy and hope in their voices because they are a step closer to closure.


How has Tetra Tech incorporated technology to better assist disaster survivors?

Technology evolves quickly, and we need to evolve quickly as well. At Tetra Tech we are open to change, and after each project, we discover better ways to mitigate disasters. Tetra Tech continuously refines technology solutions and SOPs to improve how we respond to disasters. Increasing our efficiency during the recovery process helps the communities we serve, enabling businesses to reopen and residents to return to their normal lives.


What do you do outside of your work that you think makes a difference for our communities?

As a military wife, I like to give back to our veterans and currently deployed U.S. military personnel who are serving our country. I’m a member of the American Legion, Blue Star Moms, my local United Service Organization, and Tetra Tech’s SALUTE Employee Resource Group. These activities support veterans and their families through community outreach, volunteer work, and other forms of support. I think helping people and leading by example is key for a better tomorrow. Our children watch and learn everything we do and how we use our free time, too. I feel proud of my husband, our country, and also of my ability to inspire community members—both young and old. I also feel proud to be working for a company that supports diversity.

I wake up happy everyday knowing that I will help someone take a step or two closer to getting back to normal.

Patty McGowan, Case Manager
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