THREE QUESTIONS FOR Libby Montesnation

September 12, 2022

Libby MontesNation worries about wildfires and other natural disasters so you don't have to. The Lab’s drills, training, and exercise coordinator, MontesNation works within the Security & Emergency Services division's Emergency Management department. Elements sat down with her recently to discuss the Lab's upcoming full-scale exercise and how life in the Coast Guard, and on the soccer field, prepared her to take on catastrophe.

Would you tell us some detail about your work and what you do for the Lab.

I work on the planning and development of drills and exercises that test how we as a Lab would do in crisis. Day to day, we're concerned with things like hazardous materials spills. Overall, based on where the Lab is located, we concern ourselves with wildfires and earthquakes. And even though we’ve faced droughts and dry conditions, if we were to get a lot of rain we'd be looking at mud and landslides. We're pretty much in a hotbed of natural disasters.

Outside of natural disasters, we practice for power shutdowns, terrorism and bomb threats, active shooters — things that can be classified as surprise events you wouldn't expect to happen but that could happen anytime, anywhere.

The Lab is gearing up to do a full-scale emergency exercise on Sept. 16. What will we be practicing and why the exercise is important?

The full-scale exercise is a wildland fire scenario and there’s a few good reasons why we chose that. First, back in 2017, we had an arsonist who set a fire on the hillside near the Lab that led to evacuations. With temperatures rising and the current dry conditions we thought it would be realistic and a good chance to practice working through some of the difficulties we encountered back then. How do we evacuate the Lab safely and efficiently and protect the Lab’s infrastructure? How do we work with our partnering agencies: Berkeley Fire Department, UC Police Department, and City of Berkeley emergency management?

We’ll work through the scenario as a whole and find out where our gaps are; where our communication might be lacking, and just get to know those emergency responders that we don't necessarily work with day to day. We don't want an emergency to be the first time we're meeting and working together. This gives us a chance to figure out how well we work and practice together.

During the exercise, the typical Lab employee will receive test LabAlerts, and hear announcements over the radio and the PA system. Since our focus this year will be within Zone Six, employees there will be practicing evacuation procedures: grabbing your phone, wallet, and keys, and exiting the building safely before heading to an emergency assembly area. We’ll be practicing power shutdown simulations to make the buildings safe as we’re evacuating, though no power will actually be shut down.

Tell us some things about yourself that perhaps folks at the Lab may not know about you?

I have 13 years’ experience with the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, working sometimes in active duty as well as response operations, doing everything from natural disasters, oil spills, and a little bit of search and rescue. I was also disaster preparedness and safety coordinator for West Contra Costa Unified School District for three years.

Another piece to my background is that I was a full-time soccer coach, coaching at every level from young children to college teams. That experience taught me the importance of working collaboratively and working in sync. And also leading under pressure, because when you're the head coach that demands resolve.

You also have a lot of influence over young minds, not just as a coach on a sports field but as leader who they're looking up to. Many of us who have played sports, or been in something where we've had a coach or leader, know that those can be very influential people throughout the course of your life.

To learn more about the Emergency Management at Berkeley Lab click on the link:

Emergency Management Service