By Leslie D. Rose
When Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, New Orleans native Arianne Deruise was an aspiring singer and senior at LSU studying disaster science management.
“Katrina stole my innocence,” she said.
She continued that she learned everything she needed to know about life and her then future career path in the summer of 2005 as a student worker at the Baton Rouge Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (MOHSEP) during the monstrous hurricane’s land fall.
Now just about nine years after the Category 3 nightmare ravished the Gulf Coast, Deruise has become the first woman to receive the Director’s Award from the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP).
“I was very surprised – it was really cool,” Deruise said of receiving the award. “[GOHSEP gives] out several different awards for outstanding performance and then there’s the Director’s Award that’s given to somebody who’s done exceptional service and has been instrumental in the success of the agency and I think that I got it because of this past year.”
Deruise has been employed at GOHSEP for five years and has since moved through the ranks, starting as a disaster recovery specialist to exercise officer to her current position as meteorological operations officer. She said upon taking the job she was immediately aware that she was agreeing to be on-call 24/7.
“It’s fun when we’re activated,” Deruise said. “I think I’m the only one who feels that way. We are damn near activated all the time. I’ve chosen to be as available as I am because I strongly believe in what I do.”
But while some people only get to live one of their dreams, Deruise switches from day to night to be both totally engulfed in her emergency management career and the lead singer for popular Baton Rouge based cover band U4ria.
And as one of the very few women working through the state hurricane program, she said she works extra hard, but she saves the diva persona for the stage.
“Not many people can say that they do what they love twice,” Deruise said. “I have two passions that I absolutely love and they both make me money. I love being able to coordinate response efforts and it’s a great feeling to be onstage.”
Deruise’s day-to-day operations depend on the weather, incidentally and surprisingly for south Louisiana, the weather has never affected her singing career.
“We gigged during Isaac,” Deruise said in a laugh. “I worked from 5:30 in the morning until about 7 at night then I got dressed in the bathroom at work, showered, drove my happy-go-lucky behind down Florida [Street] and went to The Famous [Theatre]. Then I went back to GOHSEP, took a shower and went slept on a cot for a couple of hours until my shift started. Yeah I absolutely did it – was I crazy? Maybe.”
That wasn’t the first time she gigged through a natural disaster, but she said she does know better which storms to work through. She said her band mates work with her and understand that there are times when she’s got to wear both hats almost at the same time and she even admits to doing sound checks while holding her iPad with radars and emergency maps pulled up.
Yet while she can talk about storms with a smile on her face or even jokingly now, she is still haunted by Hurricane Katrina.
“Katrina was personal and professional at the same time for me,” she said. “I had to sit there and think for awhile after her and I believe that I still haven’t truly processed Katrina. I had to really put into context that no matter where you go and make your home, if you’re in emergency management, at some point a disaster is going to be in your backyard and you are going to have to be able to have the fortitude to do what you said you were going to do when at the end of the day you may or not have a house to go home to.”
Luckily Deruise said she has found herself to be strong enough to handle the pressure of managing emergencies and coincidently, it’s her night job that helps ease the stress and keeps her cool throughout the day.
“People who know me professionally and then see me onstage say that I transform – I don’t see it,” she said. “I never wanted to be that woman who cries at work about everything or lose my cool, but onstage I get to let go of every emotion that I’ve ever had and that’s just something you can’t do in a professional setting.”
At one point Deruise was working toward a solo career as a singer – she even released a single, shot a video and had a huge release party to celebrate, but these days she says her aspirations of building that career are nonexistent.
“Me moving up the ladder in emergency management took that away,” she said. “I have a time limit on things – I’m no longer at a point mentally, emotionally or financially to be able to put effort into a solo career. I gave it a big shot and yeah it was really good and I don’t regret anything about that because it showed me that you can absolutely do it, but you have to be at the right place at the right time and it wasn’t the right place or the right time.”
But throughout her five years professionally singing and nearly ten years in the scientific field, Deruise has been reassured that she is doing what she is meant to be doing with her life.
“I believe in God ordering your steps and when He orders, you have to follow,” she said. “I started to move deeper within emergency management and I started to love it even more. The cool thing is that I don’t have to choose between that and singing right now – I don’t have to choose.”