FEMA Welcomes New Small State and Rural Advocate Patricia Pudwill

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Patricia Pudwill

During each step of disaster preparedness and recovery, it’s vital to reach as many people as possible. Those in more remote areas may not have access to the resources they need to recover. FEMA is working to expand our reach so that our help is accessible for everyone.  As part of these efforts, the agency recently hired Small State and Rural Advocate Patricia Pudwill.

Pudwill previously served as the Campbell, South Dakota, County Highway Superintendent, the South Dakota Emergency Management Regional Coordinator and the South Dakota FEMA Integration Team Lead.

We spoke with Pudwill about the experiences she brings to FEMA and the road ahead.

1. Welcome to FEMA! Can you tell us a little bit more about the role you’ll be taking on?

Thank you! In my new role as the FEMA Small State and Rural Advocate, I’ll be focusing on ensuring that the unique challenges and needs of small towns and rural areas are addressed in our disaster preparedness, response, mitigation and recovery. This includes advocating and ensuring equitable access to FEMA services, including resources, policies and programs, specifically tailored to these communities, which often face different challenges than larger urban areas. In addition, I will collaborate with FEMA Regions, state and local officials to develop effective strategies to create a more resilient nation.  

2. Can you tell us a little more about your experience living in a small town?

Living on a farm in South Dakota has been a deeply formative experience for me. Life here is closely tied to the land and the seasons, and it instills a strong sense of community and resilience. In a small town, neighbors aren’t just people who live nearby; they’re vital support networks, especially in times of need. 

The pace of life is different from that in larger cities. We’re more attuned to nature and the environment, which is our livelihood, especially when it comes to weather-related disasters. Farming life teaches you the value of hard work, persistence and resourcefulness. It’s these values and skills that I bring to my role at FEMA. 

This background has given me a personal understanding of the unique challenges and strengths in a small state, including small towns and rural communities. It’s this perspective that I bring to my advocacy work at FEMA, ensuring that the voices of small and rural communities are heard and their needs are met effectively.

3. What do you think are some of the challenges small towns face in better withstanding and recovering from disasters? 

Growing up in rural South Dakota, I’ve observed several key challenges that small towns face in both withstanding and recovering from disasters. One of the most significant challenges is limited resources. Smaller communities often have tighter budgets and fewer personnel dedicated to emergency management, which can severely impact their disaster preparedness and response capabilities. This limitation extends to critical infrastructure, which in many small towns, may not be as robust or modern as in larger cities, making it more vulnerable to damage from disasters. Additionally, these communities often experience a delay in receiving emergency assistance due to their remote locations, which can exacerbate the impact of disasters.

Another major challenge is the demographic and economic makeup of small towns.  Economically, small towns often rely heavily on a few key industries. In places like South Dakota, agriculture plays a significant role, and a disaster that impacts this sector can have long-lasting economic repercussions for the entire community. There’s also a gap in access to up-to-date information and training on disaster preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery, which can leave residents less prepared for emergencies. Addressing these challenges requires a tailored approach, recognizing the unique needs of small towns and rural areas and providing them with the tools and resources necessary to build resilience against future disasters.

4. How can your new role help you tackle the challenges of supporting rural communities before, during and after disasters?

In my new role as FEMA Small State and Rural Advocate, especially with my background living on a farm in rural South Dakota, I am uniquely positioned to address the challenges faced by rural communities in disaster management. One key aspect of my role is to ensure that the specific needs of these communities are integrated into FEMA’s broader disaster preparedness, response, mitigation and recovery strategies. This includes advocating for more resources and tailored programs that recognize the unique logistical, economic and infrastructural realities of rural areas. By leveraging my understanding of these communities and understanding that there is not a one-size-fits all solution, I can facilitate more effective communication between FEMA and rural stakeholders, ensuring that emergency plans are not only inclusive but also practical and actionable at the local level.

Furthermore, my role enables me to focus on enhancing local capacities before disasters strike. This involves organizing training and educational programs tailored to rural settings, improving access to information and fostering stronger networks among local, state and federal agencies. Overall, my position is pivotal in bridging the gap between national resources and local needs, ensuring that rural communities are not only heard but actively supported throughout the disaster management cycle.

5. What led you to working for FEMA?

My decision to join FEMA as the Small State and Rural Advocate was driven by a deep-seated commitment to serve communities similar to the one where I grew up. Witnessing the impact of disasters on rural and small-state communities, coupled with my understanding of their specific needs and vulnerabilities, fueled my passion for ensuring that these areas receive adequate attention and resources. I saw an opportunity in FEMA to make a significant impact, advocating for tailored strategies and policies that ensure these communities are not only prepared but also have a strong voice in national emergency management planning. My role allows me to blend my personal experiences and professional skills to effectively represent and support these communities at a federal level.

6. What do you most look forward to about this new role?

I am most excited about the opportunity to make a tangible difference in the lives of people in small states and rural communities. I look forward to bridging the gap between these communities and the resources and support available at the federal level. My goal is to ensure that their unique needs are not just recognized but are actively incorporated into national disaster preparedness and response strategies. This role offers the chance to advocate for and implement policies that strengthen the resilience of these communities, foster more effective emergency response mechanisms and facilitate a more robust recovery process. It’s about bringing a voice to the table that has been underrepresented and ensuring that small states and rural areas across the country have the tools and support they need to thrive, even in the face of adversity.

Sunrise over the plains.

Pudwill shares a photo she took near her hometown of Herreid, South Dakota.

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