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Features May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2
   

 

The Governor’s Pressroom

by Evan Westrup, Marshall ’04

 
     
Disaster Response: Evan Westrup (standing, right) consults with others at a community transportation and land use planning forum in Los Angeles..

Late last October, I was in the middle of a typically busy day, when a barrage of news reports blasted my inbox. There were major fires burning across Southern California, including a number of large blazes raging in the greater San Diego region.

Before long, estimates surfaced that a quarter of a million residents were being evacuated in San Diego. With many UC San Diego friends still living in the area, I was immediately concerned and I also realized that I would soon have my hands full.

Sitting there filtering the news also stirred up many memories of my time in San Diego. I recalled that UCSD had liberated me from my inner dork so that for a while, it seemed everything aside from cell biology interested me. It was not until my third year, when I studied abroad and had to decide on a major, that I reluctantly settled on communication. After graduating from UCSD in 2004, a whirlwind of internships (U.S Department of Interior, American Foreign Service Association and Scottish Parliament), more school (a graduate degree from the University of Edinburgh) and postgraduate fellowships (Capital Fellows Program and Coro Fellows Program) helped land me a position in the Governor’s Office in July 2007, and among other responsibilities, the task of monitoring the media reports from the Communications Unit.

The newsroom within the Communications Unit (commonly referred to as a "war room" on the political campaign trail) was fully staffed by an astute manager and a bevy of keen college interns trained to track and pull coverage from every major media news outlet worldwide . It was my job to make sense of the coverage, track the most important issues and respond to any inaccuracies or red flags.

This role took on a new and added importance during the fires because even with quick action from California’s first responders, the sheer scale and escalation of this disaster meant that there would be some gaps in the local, state and federal response.

In the newsroom, utilizing the 24-hour news cycle, the latest internet search tools and media monitoring technology, we were able to help fill this gap and provide key information about critical vulnerabilities, supply shortages and local concerns to authorities in the field.

In one case, a television news report came through that a makeshift evacuation center urgently needed supplies. Armed with this information, local officials were contacted and the necessary supplies were delivered within hours. In addition to making our government more responsive and helping address the immediate needs of Californians during these difficult times, this media monitoring operation also allowed us to go back and examine how to improve our response when future disasters strike.

This 20 hour-a-day, week-long experience was the highlight of my time serving in the Governor’s Office, and above all it gave me the opportunity to help and reconnect with the city I called home as a student at UCSD. It also reinforced my belief that higher education is not necessarily designed to teach a student what to think, but how to think. In that respect, I could not have been better prepared for the last three years in which I have faced the challenges of the political world as a Capital Fellow and a member of the Communications Unit working in the Governor's Office, and the interconnected world of public affairs as a Coro Fellow working in five sectors over nine months

As for all of the times I haven’t known exactly what to think, say or do professionally, it is nice to know that I can always rely on the skills I honed in my favorite class at UCSD: introduction to acting.

Evan Westrup, Marshall ’04, was associate communications director in the Office of Governor Schwarzenegger from July 2007 to July 2008.

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