Protector of the Past

Tara Potts’ passion for helping others in need crystalized on the Gulf Coast, as she assisted in the recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Growing up in Paducah, Ky., she had no experience with the devastating effects of hurricanes. She did have a long fascination with cultures and heritage, but she never dreamed that she would someday use her studies in anthropology and archaeology to help people and communities recover from disasters.

Potts lives in the Washington, D.C., area and works for the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a program analyst in their Environmental Planning and Historic Preservation program. She helps ensure that recovery and rebuilding efforts administered by FEMA protect and preserve architectural, archaeological, historical and cultural sites. She also works to promote enhanced building practices that can protect lives and property in a future disaster.

“It’s rare to be able to work as an anthropologist or archaeologist and use my education and experience to help people in their darkest hour,” says Potts. “That’s something I’m very proud of.”

Her journey began at the University of South Alabama, where in 2001 she received an undergraduate degree in anthropology with a focus on archaeology. “I chose South partly because it was somewhat less expensive,” Potts admits, “but also because of the smaller class sizes and close-knit atmosphere. I really enjoyed being able to interact with my professors.”

After South, Potts left Mobile and got her master’s in anthropology while teaching undergraduate courses for three years. In 2008, she reconnected with professor Dr. Philip Carr, who was looking for a new staff member at USA’s Center for Archeological Studies. Potts jumped at the opportunity. She moved back to Mobile and worked at the Center for five years as a researcher and project manager.

Then came the opportunity to work for FEMA. Her first assignment was at the FEMA Mississippi Recovery Office on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, providing assistance for long-term recovery efforts and hazard mitigation post-Katrina. Last year, Potts moved to FEMA’s Washington headquarters, where she helps ensure the right environmental and historical experts are on the ground for community rebuilding following a disaster.

“It’s such a rewarding experience to help people rebuild their lives and communities,” she says, crediting her experience at South with guiding her to what now is her life’s work. “The close-knit nature of USA made me feel like I was part of a community that valued me. It gave me a desire to contribute and use my studies to truly help people.”

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