Six weeks. That is how long Allison Farole ’07 had been in charge of emergency management in Charlottesville, VA., when trouble came to town.
“It was pretty much a trial by fire,” she said.
Farole is the emergency management coordinator for the Charlottesville-University of Virginia-Albemarle Office of Emergency Management. She worked alongside law enforcement, firefighters, and medical personnel during an Aug. 11–12 white nationalist rally near the University of Virginia that drew widespread media attention and became a flashpoint in the national dialogue about race relations. The event escalated to violence, claiming one life and injuring dozens of other people.
Farole focused on communication and prioritization to manage through the crisis. Prioritization was especially important, considering that at the time she worked in a department of one.
“It was very much an adrenaline rush — trying to take it one day at a time and knowing what I could put off and what I couldn’t,” she said.
Farole was prepared for the moment. She received a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of La Verne in 2007. She planned to pursue a career as a television reporter, but a relief trip with the Church of the Brethren to Louisiana following Hurricanes Rita and Katrina planted a seed that would grow into a passion for what she calls “management of chaos.”
After graduation, she worked as a counselor for the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Alabama. Part of her job involved teaching sixth graders the importance of emergency preparedness through the “Be Ready Camp.”
Farole left that job after a year to work in advertising and marketing in Virginia, but had her eye on public service. She pursued a Master of Public Administration and volunteered with the Community Emergency Response Team in Charlottesville.
Farole later worked as the assistant emergency management coordinator for the Charlottesville-University of Virginia-Albemarle Office of Emergency Management.
She helped coordinate the massive community search for University of Virginia student Hannah Graham in 2014, an incident she previously considered the most challenging of her career. The case garnered international attention. On June 30, 2017, she moved into her current position.
Eight days later, white nationalists held their first rally in Charlottesville, an event that would fuel several more racial clashes in the college town. She coordinated a virtual emergency operations center — an interface that allows emergency responders to access files, maps, and other important resources electronically.
Following weekly preparation meetings with law enforcement, firefighters, and other emergency officials, she worked with a team to respond to resource requests and communicate information at the regional emergency operations center, set up at the University of Virginia on the day of the Unite the Right Rally.
Farole’s communications background helped her convey information simply and effectively to officials.
Professor of Communications Mike Laponis, who taught Farole, said she is uniquely qualified for her position because of her combined experience in communications and emergency management.
“Her communication skills and care for others truly makes her a person who makes a difference in her community,” he said.