An Employee Spotlight for National Preparedness Month – How Fire and Tragedy Ignited a Passion for Protecting Families and Communities
Smoke wafted from the windows of a home as a threatening haze crept over a small sleeping community. As the flames grow, the smell of smoke awakens neighbors. One question echoes through their minds: What happened inside that house, and who would emerge safely? Nestled within a suburb of East Los Angeles, an unexpected tragedy forever impacts and shapes one of their residents' life.
Meet Mona Freels, whose childhood experience propelled her life and career in emergency services and wildfire preparedness, protecting communities from the destructive forces of nature.
“Even though I was only nine years old, I still remember that evening like it happened yesterday,” said Freels. “My aunt inadvertently started the fire with an electrical lamp. It all happened so quickly, and all exits were blocked. We had no choice but to escape through a narrow bathroom window.”
Fortunately, Freels’ and her family escaped the fire unharmed, but the stressful experience left an enduring mark. Driven to help prevent such tragedies from befalling others, Freels began a lifelong career protecting communities from the most destructive natural disasters and educating them about the importance of emergency readiness.
“The feeling of fear and the lack of preparedness is something no family should experience,” said Freels. “It’s a feeling that I unfortunately felt but has pushed me personally and professionally to help others.”
She began volunteering at the American Red Cross shortly after the fire, however, Mona’s passion for disaster preparedness and service to people only blossomed as she grew older. She lost herself in books about emergency services and attended community workshops, absorbing knowledge like a sponge. Driven by a profound desire to make a difference, she embarked on a journey that would lead her to multiple impactful career opportunities with the American Red Cross, serving as the Director of Disaster Response and Preparedness, Chief Operating Officer for 211 San Diego, Emergency Management Coordinator for Heartland Fire & Rescue, and Senior Homeland Security Coordinator for the City of San Diego Office of Homeland Security.
Affectionally called the “Disaster Queen”, Freels embraces the nickname, being involved in major disaster responses, locally and out of the area, most notably the Northridge earthquake, Hurricanes Katrina, Gustav, and Ike, the 2004 tsunami in Thailand, and the 2003 and 2007 San Diego wildfires. “Every disaster is different, and it doesn’t discriminate, but what always remains the same is the need to put people first in any emergency response,” she added. HILARY
Today, Mona stands tall as a pillar of her community and a fountain of knowledge to her colleagues as our Emergencies Operations Services Manager since 2019. She helps us manage emergency preparedness, planning, response, recovery, regulatory compliance, and legislative review and participates in community outreach programs, educating residents about the importance of developing personal preparedness plans and implementing effective mitigation plans.
Mona's commitment to her cause extends beyond her professional duties. She graduated with a dual bachelor’s in emergency management and Homeland Security and now at age 55 is pursuing a graduate degree in International Sustainable Development and Climate Change. She volunteers throughout San Diego in her spare time, sharing her personal story and expertise with the community. By empowering the younger generation, she hopes to cultivate a culture of proactive wildfire prevention, team collaboration, and community resilience.
Our innovative industry experts, like Mona, are implementing advanced technologies and sustainable practices that help minimize the devastating impact of disasters on human lives and the environment. She hopes to revolutionize the approach to emergency management services, wildfire prevention, and community preparedness by embracing innovative solutions, such as artificial intelligence and virtual simulation into emergency management practices.
Mona Freels’ remarkable journey is a testament to the power of resilience and the profound impact a single individual can make in safeguarding their community. As the flames of passion continue to burn brightly within her, she stands as a reminder to always pursue one's calling and protect what we hold dear. People.
“Here at SDG&E, we have an important role to play, but we are not just employees. We are also customers and live in the neighborhoods we serve,” said Freels. “We are always looking forward and innovating for the future because making our communities and neighbors safer is our first priority.”