Prepare for disaster before it’s too late


All too often, the work of developing global disasters and climate resilience happens when disasters — such as a hurricane, earthquake, or tsunami — have already devastated entire cities and ripped communities apart. But Elizabeth Petheo, MBA ’14, says her work lately has focused on preparedness.

It’s hard to get attention for preparedness efforts, explains Petheo, director of Miyamoto International, an engineering and disaster risk reduction consultancy. “You can always get a lot of attention when there’s a disaster, but then it’s too late,” she adds.

Petheo leads the company’s projects and partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region and advises globally on international development and humanitarian aid. She also works on preparedness in the Asia-Pacific region with the United States Agency for International Development.

“We are programming private sector involvement in disaster risk management in Indonesia, which is a very disaster-prone country,” she says. “Small and medium-sized businesses make an important contribution to job creation and economic development. When they go down, the impact on the lives, livelihoods and ability of the community to respond and recover effectively is extreme. We are working to strengthen their own understanding of their risk and that of their surrounding community, guiding them through an action planning process to build resilience, and linking that to larger policy initiatives at the national level.

Petheo came to MIT with international leadership experience, having led high-profile global development and mitigation initiatives at the World Bank in Washington, DC, as well as with US government agencies and international organizations leading major global humanitarian efforts and teams in Sri Lanka and Haiti. But she says her time with Sloan has helped her prepare for this next stage in her career. “Sloan was the experience that put all the pieces together,” she says.

Petheo has maintained strong ties to MIT. In 2018, she received the Margaret LA MacVicar ’65, ScD ’67, Award in recognition of her role in starting and leading the MIT Sloan Club in Washington, DC, and her work as an inaugural member of the Graduate Alumni Council (GAC) . She is also a member of the Friends of the MIT Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center.

“I believe deeply in the power and impact of the Institute’s work and people,” she says. “The moment I graduated, I thought, ‘How can I give back and how can I continue to enhance the experience of those who come after me?’”