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Preparing for disasters, before it’s too late


Efforts to develop global disaster and climate resilience often occur when disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes or tsunamis, have ravaged entire cities and tore apart communities. But MBA ’14’s Elizabeth Petheo says her work lately has been focused on preparation.

The preparations are hard to get people’s attention, explained Petheo, head of engineering and disaster mitigation consultancy Miyamoto International. “When a disaster happens, you can always get a lot of attention, but by then it’s too late,” she added.

Petheo leads the firm’s programs and partnerships in the Asia Pacific region and advises on international development and humanitarian assistance globally. She also works with USAID on disaster preparedness in the Asia Pacific region.

“We are working on plans for private sector participation in disaster risk management in Indonesia, which is a very disaster-prone country,” she said. “Small and medium enterprises are important contributors to job creation and economic development. When they fail, the impact on lives, livelihoods and the ability of communities to respond and recover effectively is extreme. We work to strengthen their awareness of their own risks and those of the surrounding communities understanding, guide them through the action planning process to build resilience and link it to larger policy initiatives at the national level.”

Petheo comes to MIT with international leadership experience, having managed high-profile global development and risk mitigation programs at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., and leading major global humanitarian responses with U.S. government agencies and international organizations and in Sri Lanka team, as well as Haiti. But she said her time at Sloan helped prepare her for the next phase of her career. “Sloan is the experience that brings all the pieces together,” she said.

Petheo maintains close ties with MIT. In 2018, she received the Margaret LA MacVicar ’65, ScD ’67 Award for her role in starting and leading the MIT Sloan Club in Washington, D.C., and for her role as a founding member of the Graduate Alumni Council (GAC) work. She is also a member of the Friends of the Priscilla King Gray Center for Public Service at MIT.

“I deeply believe in the power and impact of the Institute’s work and people,” she said. “The moment I graduated, my thought process was, ‘How can I give back to the community, how can I continue to enhance the experience of those who have followed me?'”

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