Margaret Fowke launched her career as a registered dietician at Atlanta’s Grady Hospital after earning a degree in nutrition. Nearly a decade later, she returned to Georgia State University to earn degrees in economics and public policy.
“Grady served uninsured patients and was often viewed as a tax burden,” she said. “GSU’s public policy program equipped me to help the uninsured with chronic diseases improve their health, reduce their reliance on prescription drugs and decrease re-hospitalization.”
Fowke intended to stay in the medical field after completing her graduate programs, but changed course in 2001 after spotting a job posting by the NWS, which was working to create its first collaborations between medical professionals and severe weather teams.
“I knew nothing about weather, but had experience in the medical field, so I went for it,” she said.
Now, by day, Fowke is a program analyst with the National Weather Service (NWS) in Washington, D.C. Nights and weekends, she volunteers with the Silver Spring Fire Department in Maryland, whose work and ideas she represents to the DHS Science and Technology First Responders Resource Group (FRRG). This group identifies capability gaps that lead to the development, testing and implementation of technologies to aid first responders.
Fowke became an emergency medical technician (EMT) in 2008 to honor her friend, Thomas “Tim” Butcher Jr., who worked at a New Orleans hospital when Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast in August 2005.
“Tim, his colleagues and the patients got trapped in the hospital,” she said. “They delivered a baby with no electricity and provided medical care to patients in need, using makeshift tools in many cases. He survived the hurricane, but a year later, he lost his life to cancer. In a moment of crisis, he saved lives. I wanted to do the same in memory of his bravery and caring heart.”
As an EMT, Fowke better understands the scenarios first responders face in traffic and weather events. She is working on two safety innovations with her fellow first responders: a vest that sends warnings about approaching traffic and a Social Media Analytics and Reporting Toolkit that helps first responders visualize and analyze activities in real time during large events and dangerous weather.
“The vest will alert emergency medical services units that a vehicle is approaching at a fast speed, so they can get to safety,” she said. “The toolkit, on the other hand, can help emergency medical services contain situations in which people are reporting an active shooter on social media. It already has been deployed to the 2017 Inauguration, Hurricane Harvey and the 2018 State of the Union Address.”
Throughout her career, Fowke’s focus has remained on the safety and health of others.
“I hope innovative technology can give first responders a better advantage, improve their situational awareness, and offer one more way for them to stand against the forces of weather to save lives.”