The Robot Petting Zoo

We know that a playful approach to life can lead to better innovations, cooperation and even transform lives. But what about when disaster strikes? Does play still have a role? Desiree Matel-Anderson has proof that play is vitally important even when facing harrowing situations like floods, tornadoes and other types of crises.

In this interview, she shares how a Robot Petting Zoo helped the unaccompanied minors stranded in Texas border towns during the youth border crisis in 2013 – 2015. She talks about her team’s fascinating uses for drones and how they’re working with a town in Canada to gamify emergency prep – and it really IS a game. It sounds like these people are having an awful lot of fun. (Has anyone seen that mayor?)

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Learn More about Desi

Desiree Matel AndersonDesiree (Desi) Matel-Anderson is the “Chief Wrangler” of the not-for-profit organization Field Innovation Team (FIT) and CEO of the Global Disaster Innovation Group, LLC.  Ms. Matel-Anderson is the first and former Chief Innovation Advisor at FEMA and Think Tank Strategic Vision Coordinator. 

During her tenure at FEMA, she led the first innovation team down to Hurricane Sandy to provide real-time problem solving in disaster response and recovery.  She also ran think tanks nation-wide to cultivate innovation in communities, which have historically trended globally on social media during the broadcasts.

The Field Innovation Team has deployed to several disasters including, the Boston Marathon Bombings assisting at the scene with social media analysis, Moore, Oklahoma tornadoes for continued mobile registration and coding solutions, Philippines Typhoon Haiyan for cellular connectivity heat maps and the Oso, Washington Mudslides with unmanned aerial system flights and a 3d print of the topography for incident command.

During the Nepal earthquakes, she led the team to work with Nepali women leaders in the earthquake relief efforts, which included rebuild, mobilizing survivors to assist in recovery efforts and empowerment trainings. Currently, her efforts are focused on the Syrian Refugee Crisis with  team deployed to Beirut, Lebanon and virtual support in Turkey and Syria.

Desi began her emergency management experience by volunteering in Northern Illinois University’s Office of Emergency Planning followed by working with the Southeast Wisconsin Urban Area Security Initiative, and the City of Milwaukee Homeland Security and Emergency Management Office. In addition to her regional emergency management duties, she worked as an assessor of the Emergency Management Accreditation Program Assessor nation-wide, which included assessing the City of Boston’s emergency management services prior to the tragic Boston Marathon bombings. She has also worked on numerous innovative projects with agencies, communities, organizations and companies throughout her career.  Desi also lectures on innovation at Harvard and various universities across the country and serves as consultant for agencies and governments, nationally and internationally, on innovative practices and infrastructure.

Desi attended the National Preparedness Leadership Institute at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and School of Public Health in 2011, advised on Harvard’s Executive Education on National Preparedness Leadership Institute Advisory Board in 2013 and obtained a Juris Doctorate from Northern Illinois University in 2009.

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