Stephanie Strazisar’s interest in business continuity started during her graduate school studies at the University of Maryland University College. While pursuing a master’s degree in emergency management, she learned the interdependence among infrastructure sectors and critical infrastructure systems. Resulting cascading effects from natural or manmade hazards can be very disruptive in the short- and long-term. An opportunity to intern at the Department of Homeland Security’s strategy, policy, and budget division of the Office of Infrastructure Protection provided her with more insight to the importance of public and private sector working together on continuity as well as continuous and open communication, given the lessons learned from 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.
While Strazisar thought she might return to first responder or preparedness work after school since she had experience as a wildland firefighter and in wildland fire fuels mapping, resilience and continuity work really resonated with her.
Her current career provides the opportunity to help inform, brand, and promote efforts which make climate, risk, and natural hazard science “actionable” for decision-makers and policy purposes. While her current role with resilience and continuity is not as in-depth on day-to-day tasks as a practitioner, helping to connect and maintain information sharing among stakeholders with a wide variety of expertise is rewarding. The academic environment also provides an avenue to pursue more transformative efforts which might not be immediately valued in the public or private sector but have long-term impact on future continuity and resilience professionals.
Strazisar is research assistant to Alice C. Hill at Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Hill previously served at the White House as special assistant to President Barack Obama and senior director for resilience policy on the National Security Council.
She assists research fellow Hill with scholarly writing and publications, developing presentations, and managing collaborative efforts which address risk, adaptation, and resilience to climate events and natural hazards.
While Hoover is a part of Stanford University, which is located in Palo Alto, Calif., Strazisar works in Washington, D.C.
She strives to turn challenges into opportunities. While she has response, project management, and staff management experience, she is new to many IT continuity procedures. Strazisar aims to identify what she knows is transferable from her past and current experience and applies where possible. She looks to where she has experience gaps so she can build her knowledge with confidence.
As a young professional just entering the continuity field, Strazisar is often concerned she will not be taken seriously or given an opportunity to compliment an established continuity effort. She tries to use this concern as an opportunity to be a set of fresh eyes for that team of professionals as well as a learning experience for herself.
Strazisar has found most peers and colleagues who work in this field after 9/11 appreciate inclusive communication and idea exchanges outside of silos that are organization or profession based. Still, sometimes one can fall into a communication platform which lacks engagement and may not promote interaction outside a small team or group. With so many projects, meetings, and presentations, she sometimes notices a bias in that everyone follows the first idea or suggestion which is offered. Asking what perspective or expertise might not be currently present on a conference call or in a meeting but could add value to a conversation or effort can help. Providing a way for everyone to contribute and not just follow group think or simplicity sake can take some extra thought but is well worth the effort.
Last summer when Strazisar was exploring ways to forward her knowledge and professional opportunities in resilience and continuity, she discovered a mentorship program. She applied and was matched with Nancy Kolb at the Chicago office of Fusion Risk Management. Despite their one-hour time difference, the pair’s regular communication and Kolb’s advice gave Strazisar the confidence to pursue professional certifications as well as networking opportunities outside of her current resilience work and knowledge comfort zone. She closely identified with her non-traditional journey and story to how she found work in the continuity field. Kolb’s encouragement to look outside Strazisar’s current perspective and experiences continues to be invaluable. Her introductions to colleagues and other women in business continuity not only are thoughtful but very inspiring.
“I hope to be able to pay it forward when I have more work experience in continuity and be a resource for other young women,” said Strazisar.
She feels her work with Hill has also had an impact on her career journey. Hill has shown Strazisar that being forward thinking and proactive is a “personal and professional asset and power to convene expertise is valuable.”
As for changes in the industry, Strazisar would like to see climate change taken more seriously and considered regularly in more long-term planning for business impact analysis and business continuity plans. While climate change impacts will not be equally felt everywhere and at the same time, she believes they have an opportunity and a responsibility to consider them in the present and the future and look outside of the historical norms of weather and natural hazard events. For example, as a mortgage or property investment is typically 30 years, and it is known that climate impacts are dynamic, why only look to the past to plan? She feels plans should be based on future projections.
Strazisar is currently studying for her Project Management Professional certificate and would like to earn industry-accepted business continuity and resilience certifications. While her red card certifications have long expired, she would also like to take current National Incident Management System courses. She appreciates the opportunity to learn about best practices in continuity for different sectors which could be applied to others, formally or informally.
As for advice to other professionals in the industry, Strazisar said to not be afraid to ask questions and explore how others in the continuity field got to their current role. She added, “Take initiative. It will not go unnoticed.”
Strazisar added one final suggestion for fellow professionals: “Take advantage of the opportunity to evaluate and look back and learn from a process, exercise, or response effort. Often referred to as a hot wash or a debrief by first responders, it provides invaluable feedback to what went right and what could have gone better.”