Name: Sezin Tokar
Position: Hydrometeorological hazards adviser, Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
Best known for: A week before Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines this month, Tokar was tracking the storm’s path to help USAID plan its disaster response — providing regional weather forecasts and information on the storm’s path, wind speed and rainfall. In this most recent case and in other instances, her work has given decision-makers a better handle on what to expect and has permitted USAID to more quickly mobilize its disaster assistance resources to help those hit by floods, hurricanes, tsunamis and droughts.
Closely monitoring extreme weather events in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Tokar synthesizes and packages critical meteorological information from numerous weather models, U.S. and foreign countries’ forecasts, and other sources to make it understandable and useful to the disaster management community. USAID relies on her expertise to respond to an average of 70 disasters a year in more than 50 countries. Tokar also helps other nations with meteorological and hydrological training, and technical and technological assistance. Working with NOAA, Tokar has helped dozens of countries put in place a flash-flood guidance system that gives local officials in other countries crucial time to implement emergency plans and move people out of harm’s way.
Government work: Tokar joined USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance in 2001 after a five-year stint at NOAA as a hydrological adviser. Before that, she worked as a dam safety inspector for the state of Ohio.
Motivation for service: Water shortages in Turkey, where Tokar grew up, triggered her career interest. She frequently had to help her mother get water from a communal faucet, often at the neighborhood mosque. After moving to the United States, Tokar was inspired to work for USAID after seeing their response to Hurricane Mitch, which in 1998 wreaked havoc in Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Costa Rica.
Biggest challenge: Balancing the need to help dozens of countries build their forecasting abilities and early warning systems while being pulled away to track severe weather events that could cause flooding, devastation and loss of life.
Quote: “No matter the political issues, disasters unite different countries.”
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