Iain Hyde ’02: A conversation with a national emergency manager during COVID-19

Iain Hyde graduated from Colorado Academy in 2002. He received his BA from Colorado College and earned his master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Colorado. Currently, he is Deputy Director of the National Preparedness Analytics Center at Argonne National Laboratory. Previously, Iain was the Chief Resilience Officer and Director for the Colorado Resiliency Office. Before that he was the State of Colorado Disaster Recovery Manager. Iain kindly granted CA an interview during this busy time.

CA: First, are you and your family okay? 

Iain: Thank you for asking. My wife and I are doing well. We are hunkered down in our home here in Washington, D.C., and following public health guidance on social distancing. We are fortunate to both be able to telework for the foreseeable future.

I’m certainly concerned for my parents back in Denver. Thankfully, my sister, Joanna ’05 and her husband, Tadhg, are there, and they are all able to support each other.

CA: What are you experiencing from this pandemic in your work?

Iain: My employer, Argonne National Laboratory, provides ongoing emergency management and national security-related support to federal agencies such as FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Energy. Typically, I work at FEMA Headquarters, but with the current situation we are adapting to providing our support remotely.

We are working hard to bring our expertise, tools, and resources to the table to support and inform response efforts at the federal, state, and local level. It’s certainly a dynamic and fluid situation, but I am grateful that we are in a position to contribute.

CA: So much of what we are hearing is referencing past catastrophic events: Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, and others. Are there experiences or training that are guiding your work each day?

Iain: Hurricane Katrina, in particular, is a very personal and visceral experience for me. It is where my career in emergency management started. I led a volunteer trip down to the Mississippi Gulf Coast a few months after the storm, and returned again several times in the subsequent years.

Our profession learned a lot of lessons from Katrina that inform our actions today. But I also learned so much from the residents down there about resilience, strength, grace, and generosity. Those lessons give me optimism that we will all come together and find our way through this unprecedented challenge.

CA: Are there lessons that you can relate back to Colorado Academy? 

Iain: Colorado Academy plays a big part in who I am and what I do today. As a part of the incredible education CA gave all of us, we learned to think critically, which is probably the Number 1 skill you need to be successful in this profession.

With respect to times of crisis, I was on campus when both Columbine and 9/11 happened. The CA faculty and staff were incredible. They made us feel safe and provided us with a sense of community when we really needed it. Those memories are something I carry with me and try to emulate as much as possible.

CA: Is there advice you would have for the CA community on any front?

Iain: A couple of things come to mind. One is that this is going to be a long-term challenge. With that in mind, take the information from folks like the Governor, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and your local officials seriously. We all have a huge part to play in addressing this crisis.

Second, get creative in how you can stay connected with your friends and loved ones. I have seen many disasters, and that sense of community and connection is a huge part of getting through it. Third, just think of ways that we can all support the most vulnerable, from the way we shop, to the organizations we support with donations.

CA: Can you look down the road six months, nine months, or even a year…and predict how we will look back on this pandemic?

Iain: While we are in the middle of this challenge, it is hard not to succumb to the fear of the unknown. There are a lot of significant challenges ahead. But I am hopeful that when this is over, we will be able to look back and see how the best in us came out.

I’ve seen it before, and I’m confident we will see it again. Just remember that by taking care of others, by following the advice of public health experts, and by social distancing, we are also taking care of ourselves.