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>  News Releases >   2003 >   January

Recent grad helps FDNY prepare for terrorism threats

Posted 01/20/03, by James  Donnelly

John Chibbaro '02 is researching smallpox right now. No, wait, he's developing emergency response plans for hazmat teams. No — actually he's helping to draft remarks for an important press briefing by the chief of the Fire Department of New York.


John Chibbaro '02 (left) and Joseph Pfeifer, former chief of the Fire Department of New York (right).

There's no downtime for this Dartmouth grad who's working with the newly formed FDNY Terrorism Preparedness Taskforce, and he likes it that way.

When Chibbaro first took the opportunity to work in New York as part of the city's Urban Fellows Program, which brings 25 recent college graduates to work for nine months in city government, he expected to be posted to any one of about a hundred participating city agencies where he'd gain first-hand knowledge of the challenges and rewards of public service.

On the last day of the placement process though, another opportunity came up.

"They were looking for a person to work with the newly-formed FDNY Terrorism Taskforce," says Chibbaro. "The woman who told us kept saying she couldn't believe one of us was going to have this opportunity."

What was the big deal?

"Geography is a truly multidisciplinary subject. I tell people that you can take most any subject, be it economics or politics, and geography adds another fascinating dimension to it."

-John Chibbaro '02

The taskforce, formed in September 2002, is examining and evaluating the FDNY's terrorism preparedness capabilities — a weighty challenge, coming on the heels of 9/11. What's more, the taskforce is made up of a panel of leading nationally and internationally renowned experts on terrorism. These include James Woolsey, former Director of the CIA, Gregory Canavan, a nuclear physicist from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Margaret Hamburg, former assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Joshua Lederberg, Nobel Prize winner in Physiology, Shabtai Shavit, former director of Israel's Mossad, and Daniel Nigro, the former Department Chief of the FDNY.

"I was one of about 15–20 interns to interview for the position," Chibbaro says. "One of the main things we talked about was my experience in the Geography Department. Not a lot of schools offer it as a major, so it was definitely something that turned some heads."

Chibbaro says he learned from Geography how to process large amounts of seemingly unrelated information and tie them back to a single subject. For an independent study project he conducted with Richard Wright, Associate Dean of the Faculty for Social Sciences and Professor of Geography, Chibbaro looked at the relationship between employment, race, and the restrictive urban real-estate markets found in a number of America's largest cities.

"Geography is a truly multidisciplinary subject. I tell people that you can take most any subject, be it economics or politics, and geography adds another fascinating dimension to it," says Chibbaro.

Chibbaro's research and analytical skills have come in handy, as he sifts through mountains of information looking for the bits and pieces that may potentially be of use to the Fire Department in an emergency. He evaluates protocols of national and international first-responders to acts of terror and looks for ways to incorporate them into FDNY operations. He's also designing a weekly newsletter, to be distributed among senior FDNY chiefs and taskforce members, documenting recent terrorist activities and topics related to first-responder threat preparedness.

"Working with the FDNY is more than just a job. You really get a sense of how these guys are a family," says Chibbaro.

Chibbaro will continue his work through May 2003. He says the experience in city government along with the opportunity to work with some of the most highly respected professionals in the world, is, for a student less than a year out of college, sometimes overwhelming.

"I just feel incredibly lucky," he says.

- James Donnelly

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