“I would say that there is no typical day,” said Jose Rolon, sitting in a car parked somewhere in the Bronx, the borough of New York City to which he’d been assigned that morning. He needed to be in position, ready to go if a call came in. “I might be responding at any moment,” he said.
A citywide interagency coordinator at New York City Emergency Management, Rolon describes his work as something like being a project manager for emergencies. Whether facing a fire, a blizzard, a terror attack, or a blackout, he is responsible for coordinating the different agencies—such as the fire department and city utilities—that might need to react to a crisis.
On any given day, Rolon might be organizing or participating in trainings, flying drones to collect vital information for emergency response, meeting with agency officials, or sitting ready to respond quickly when disaster strikes.
Rolon traces his career in emergency management back to 11 September 2001, when he watched smoke rise from the World Trade Center from a window of his Brooklyn high school. He joined the U.S. Army shortly after graduating and served in the Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command, coordinating humanitarian efforts and disaster response for civilians.
Once back in New York, Rolon became a firefighter for the New York City Fire Department in 2008—a job that gave him a practical education in emergency management, he said. He pursued more theoretical education too, earning a bachelor’s degree in fire and emergency management in 2017 and a master’s of public administration in emergency management in 2020, all while working full time as a firefighter and part-time in the Army Reserve.
Rolon said that being an interagency coordinator actually has him working much more closely with disaster victims than he did as a firefighter. Helping someone through what could easily be one of the worst days of their life, he said, keeps him going when things get tough on the job.
To anyone considering a career in emergency management, “I would tell them to go for it,” said Rolon. “There’s a lot of positions out there. And we need new young people ready to come in and change [emergency management] for the better.”
—Elise Cutts (@elisecutts), Science Writer