Prepared, No Matter What

An Interview with Dr. Frank Quiambao

For years, Dr. Frank Quiambao, Founding Director of the National Education Safety and Security Institute (NESSI) in the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA, has been doing his best to help others on the frontlines prepare for the worst. It’s hard to imagine an emergency that blankets all sectors, all industries, and our most vulnerable all at once – until it hits.  While this is a very different kind of threat, Dr. Quiambao assures us that, as a community, we are “prepared, no matter what” for Covid-19.

With a long history of public service and a military background, Dr. Quiambao sat down with us to offer his perspective on our current situation. 

Following 9/11, Dr. Quiamabo realized that more than one-third of our population engages with the education sector in one way or another and yet, there was no emergency plan in place to protect our schools -- be they private, preschool, elementary or college level – in the face of any kind of threat. We have safety procedures in place for commercial, nuclear, power and transportation sectors – why is education overlooked?

He took a sabbatical and worked for a year with the government on critical infrastructure as a special advisor to the Governor of California to develop the California Office of Homeland Security. Fast forward to 2009 and, after an unprecedented increase in school shootings, Dr. Quiambao worked to establish the Safe Schools Initiative with a three-step approach to help schools prepare for threats by: 1) assessing vulnerabilities and gaps 2) establishing an emergency plan, 3) planning and training.  The goal: to prevent future acts of school violence from happening through education and training. The program continues to give school districts and security officers the tools necessary to conduct their own vulnerability assessments.

When a virus closes down our school system nationwide, our infrastructure is faced with a new kind of threat.  All of a sudden, millions of children now staying home has immediately impacted working parents across all sectors. There are also many vulnerable students who depend on our school system for lunch as well as technology. California has stepped up by providing drive-through food pick-ups for kids as well as lending chromebooks in a majority of school districts. “We don’t know how this distance learning period will play out, but seeing the community pull together and support one another has been incredible,” says Dr. Quiambao.

In an interesting twist, Dr. Quiambao is a member of the California State Military Reserve 26th Calvary Regiment. He suddenly found himself on another kind of alert when, on March 22, President Trump announced that he was activating the National Guard of California, New York and Washington State to combat the spread of coronavirus. “We’ve had training for earthquakes, fires and other natural disasters. With Covid-19, we are learning as we go,”says Dr. Quiambao. "California is the largest state guard and many guardsmen have been ordered to active duty. During the Covid crisis, they will be called upon to help out at food banks and food distribution points in LA and Orange Counties, since so many volunteers are no longer helping. Other duties will involve screening people for their temperatures at armories, soft security and communication."

One thing is certain: right now, there is no plan.“Just as we are learning as we go in the California Guard, all schools will have to prepare a quality emergency plan for this.” says Dr. Quiambao, “With a community approach, there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

When Dr. Quiambao considers his legacy, it is perhaps in his current role as the Founding Director of the National Education Safety and Security Institute (NESSI) in the Fielding School of Public Health at UCLA where he hopes to make the greatest impact on the future. UCLA is leading the way in conducting school-based research across psychology, education and public health departments from across the state. “I’m hopeful that this consolidated research will provide valuable insights for all as we prepare for threats and vulnerabilities in the education sector in the future.” 

-- - --

DR. FRANK QUIAMBAO is the Director of the National Education Security Institute (NESSI) at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health. Prior to his current position, Dr. Quiambao was the Director of Safe Communities Institute (formerly DCI) in the Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California. Dr. Quiambao served ten years in homeland security at the state and federal level—first, in the California Emergency Management Agency (Cal EMA), formerly the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security. In this capacity, he worked in the area of critical infrastructure protection and the countering of violent extremism. Dr. Quiambao also developed partnerships with business, educational institutions and faith-based communities to promote emergency preparedness. More recently he was assigned as a DHS loaned executive attached to the U.S. Secret Service heading the National Education Security Initiative. Before his involvement in homeland security, Dr. Quiambao spent 35 years in higher education. He has held numerous faculty and administrative positions with the California State University and Community Colleges. During his career, Dr. Quiambao served as president of two colleges. While in higher education, he worked extensively with education and training programs for law enforcement, fire technology and emergency medical services. Dr. Quiambao was appointed by the State Chancellor to chair the California Community Colleges Homeland Security Task Force and chaired the curriculum committee for the International Leadership Program in Counter-Terrorism at USC.