There’s a saying in emergency management: we’re always planning for the battle that we last fought. We can’t just do that. We need to be always looking at the potential worst-case and preparing for that.

I teach academically at NYU and John Jay College—part of the City University of New York. Starting in January, I was following the news and was well aware of what was going on. Many of my students hail from the People’s Republic of China, and they were dealing with the challenges of how the pandemic was rolling out there at the time. The course I was teaching at the time was Project Risk & Quality Management. A lot of the examples that my students were presenting were risk-related aspects that they were dealing with in their work, whether it was with their own family businesses or institutions where commerce was coming to a halt. From both the stories I was hearing from my students as well as those in the press, it became very clear that this was a growing pandemic, a global pandemic. Back in 2015, I conducted pandemic planning with the Department of Health at the City of New York. I consulted with health professionals as a part of that planning effort and had done a tremendous amount of research on past pandemics, looking at what the scenario was like. So I knew what was coming.

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As a crisis management consultant, it was challenging. I was reaching out to a lot of different clients and other institutions. I was saying: “This is a pandemic; this is what we’re facing and we’re going to have to make critical decisions very soon.” People found it very difficult to accept. Oftentimes, there’s a lot on people’s plates, so they see something out of left field and it’s hard to orient yourself to that potential threat, to hear something like that. This is not going away anytime soon. There is hope, and there are encouraging signs, but we still face daily frustrations. I see it with my own children and certainly with my wife and I and our other family members. It’s a matter of trying to accommodate it in the best way that we can. I think ultimately it’s brought us much closer together.

With how things are right now ... I always have a flashlight close by.

I was working day and night, all the time from a bunker-type environment in my home office. I needed some time away from that—I needed to be outside. Every day, I get up early in the morning before everybody else has gotten up, and I take my dog Buster for a run near where we live in a forested area. There are some trails. It’s about 2,000 acres and it’s beautiful. We get up in the morning, even during the winter weather, I’ll go out there with my headlamp and also an additional flashlight because it can be dark, and we’ll go for a run.

Andrew began his journey in emergency management in former Yugoslavia, which was in the midst of a brutal civil war in the 1990s.

For many years I’ve been trying to track down a former colleague of mine who worked in Croatia—he was a refugee from Northern Bosnia, a doctor. I knew he had emigrated to Canada at one point but I couldn’t find him. Suddenly, this interview [see video above] aired in Canada and he reached out to me. We connected through Zoom and spoke to each other for close to two hours. We hadn’t spoken to each other for probably close to 30 years. It was like the separation of time and space, it just shrunk. It was nice to hear that he had settled down in Canada after leaving what was a conflict zone; it was a tough situation. His two boys had grown up in Canada, have a nice life for themselves. He manages a group of dialysis centers in Canada. It was really, really nice to connect after all those years. We talked about what we had gone through, and I said, “We’re heading into a crazy time here.”

The flashlight is something that I’ve always found to be of great value. I worked in war-torn Eastern Europe for many years in the 90s, where the electricity would go out at a moment’s notice. I’d be with colleagues having drinks at a club, and the lights would suddenly go out. We’d be plunged into darkness, and, in a matter of seconds, we’d all pull our flashlights out, put them on the table, and there was enough illumination for us to continue. We’d barely even break our conversation. With how things are right now, where nothing is a given, I always have a flashlight close by.