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To paraphrase an old adage: “when the going gets tough, the tough get tougher.” It takes a unique personality to not just survive a stressful situation but to actually thrive under duress. For Rafaela Monchek, pressurized predicaments are a driving force in her life. Currently serving as Senior Advisor to the Secretary on Emergency Management, Monchek is charged with providing guidance and establishing workable solutions for the aftermath of some of the county’s worst disasters.

Monchek, who always felt great compassion for the eco-system, looked to transform her natural tendencies into responsible action. After graduating with a Master’s degree in Environmental Science from Florida International University, Monchek began her federal career with the Department of the Interior’s South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force. Vowing to protect and manage the nation’s energy, water, natural resources and cultural heritage, Monchek pursued an approach that was both holistic and scientific.

When the Everglades National Park – the largest subtropical wilderness in the Unites States – was placed on the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger, Congress approved a federal effort to help preserve it And Monchek became accountable for coordinating both federally-funded and private Everglades restoration projects. in 2005, Mother Nature smashed the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Katrina. The area was totally devastated, with widespread destruction and massive human suffering. Good Samaritans such as Monchek were enlisted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help with recovery efforts and she became a Disaster Assistance Employee, streamlining survivors’ access to federal assistance in Mississippi.

Monchek cultivated her relationship with FEMA and in late 2006, she was asked to join the staff of its Washington D.C. headquarters, becoming the Senior Program Specialist for Housing Assistance Policy. Monchek also participated in grassroots relief efforts such as addressing and advising the Board of the North American Association of Synagogue Administrators (NAASE) in Biloxi, Mississippi, which collaborated with Helping Hands, a not-for-profit organization that offered on-site aid to tens of thousands of Katrina victims.

In 2003, FEMA joined 22 other federal agencies under the all-encompassing wing of the Department of Homeland Security. Although it was the most significant reorganization of the Federal government since 1947, FEMA still remained a vital agency.  Continuing to work for FEMA gave Monchek freedom to continue pursuing her interest in emergency management. Since then, the tenured strategist has served in many capacities across that organization.

As Chief of Operations for the Mission Support Bureau, Monchek had a supervisory position over a total of six functions, including the Offices of the Chief Administrative, Information, Procurement, Security, and Component Human Capital Officers as well as the Enterprise Business Unit. But these exhaustive responsibilities did not diminish Monchek’s energy and enthusiasm for emergency management. She has also served as Deputy Director of the Inter-agency National Disaster Housing Task Force, Special Assistant to the Acting Deputy Administer, as well as the Applicant Services Manager for the Maryland National Processing Service Center. 

In the summer of 2007, Monchek spoke at FEMA’s Individual Assistance Emergency Support Function. The conference was dedicated to implementing a National Disaster Housing Strategy (NDHS) which was required in light of post-Katrina legislation. Hoping to tackle key concerns such as mass care, emergency assistance, housing, and human services, Monchek discussed different types of temporary housing units and their placement, as well as other procedures to aid victims of both natural and man-made disasters. Monchek also addressed program options and alternatives regarding how to provide the best assistance for both individuals with special needs and low-income populations after a disaster, to ensure that the NDHS would be able to meet their needs in a timely manner.

Both a strategist and coordinator, Montek’s ability to keep a level head in an emergency is why America’s leaders call on her during the Nation’s toughest times. Her passion for the ecosystem and her love of people has enabled her to also emerge as a pioneer in emergency management.
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