High Alert Institute

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Our leadership team includes not only current and former Federal Medical Officers but the FDNY EMS Medical Director during 9/11, the CDMS (Canada) head of Disaster Behavioral Health, and committee members of Florida’s Regional Disaster Behavioral Health Team. Our Chairperson is the Recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award in Disaster Medicine and was the Founding Chairperson for the American Board of Disaster Medicine. Recognized for her work in hurricane response, our Executive Director was recognized as a Distinguished Member of the Year by the National Disaster Medical System (HHS/DHS/ASPR) in 2005 and also is a therapy animal trainer/handler. The High Alert Institute now brings these decades of experience to our partnerships for animal welfare.


Allison A. Sakara, RN, MSN, NP, PHRN

Founder & Executive Director

Executive Director since 2011
NDMS Response Distinguished Member of the Year Award

Allison is a nurse practitioner with 30+ years of experience in the fields of pediatrics, hematology/ oncology, and disaster response. Recognized for her work in hurricane response, she was recognized as a Distinguished Member of the Year by the National Disaster Medical System (HHS/DHS/ASPR) in 2005. Allison has shared her expertise in Disaster and Pandemic preparedness with hospital committees, disaster responders, educational organizations, businesses, and as a Technical Advisor for Spike TV/Paramount Television. She also has worked as a clinical and regulatory consultant for nearly 30 years, serving clients primarily in the neurosurgery and endovascular surgery medical device industry. As co-founder and Executive Director, Allison is enthusiastic about bringing her decades of experience and advocacy for pet therapy, animal rescue, and green energy initiatives to the Institute.

Veronica Pardini, DVM, CertAqVet

Consulting Aquatic Veterinarian

Consulting Veterinarian since 2022
Featured Veterinarian on NatGeo Wild TV

Veronica Pardini, DVM, CertAqVet has over 10 years of experience in the field of exotic animal veterinary medicine. Born and raised in Brazil, she moved to Florida in 2016. Dr. Pardini loves all animals, but she has a soft spot for aquatic species. One of only three doctors in Florida with the Aquatic Veterinarian Certification from the World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association (WAVMA), Veronica has dedicated her professional energies to becoming an expert in aquatic animal healthcare. In addition to her work as the Institute’s consulting aquatic veterinarian, Dr. Pardini serves as the veterinary healthcare representative to the Space Healthcare Policy Working Group where she assists in the development of animal healthcare and animal welfare principles and standards for future space habitats. Veronica was also a featured doctor on the NatGeo Wild show “Dr. K’s Exotic Animal ER” for 5 seasons.

Maurice A. Ramirez, D.O., Ph.D.

Founder & Chairperson of the Board

Board Member since 2011
Lifetime Achievement Award in Disaster Medicine

Dr. Ramirez is a former Senior Physician/Federal Medical Officer, Emergency Room Doctor, Disaster Medicine Specialist and Bioterrorism/Hazmat expert. He is the recipient of the American Association of Physician Specialists Lifetime Achievement Award in Disaster Medicine and also served as the Founding Chairperson of the American Board of Disaster Medicine. For more than three decades, Dr. Ramirez has brought vast clinical, field response, and professional speaking experience to the disaster response community. He has published numerous articles in professional and scientific journals and has been cited in over 24 textbooks. In addition, Dr. Ramirez authored The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Disaster Preparedness (Alpha Books, 2009) and Making Sense of Disaster Medicine (Oxford Univ. Press, 2010). He was the Technical Advisor for Spike TV’s: Surviving Disaster and 1000 Ways to Die. Dr. Ramirez currently serves as the Chairperson for the Institute, contributing his knowledge, experience and insight to the advancement of disaster healthcare science, research, policies and procedures, as well as novel technologies. And his dedication to green energy solutions and enthusiasm for raising koi are perfectly suited to the Institute's newest endeavors.

Heidi Cordi, M.D., M.P.H., M.S.

Vice-Chairperson of the Board

Board Member since 2011
EMS Physician Excellence Award

Dr. Cordi is an Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at the Albany Medical Center in the Capital Region of New York. During the attack on 9/11, she was the FDNY EMS Medical Director and still serves as the medical director for various EMS Agencies in the New York State Capital District. Dr. Cordi is one of the proud founding members of the American Board of Disaster Medicine. She has served as President of the American Academy of Disaster Medicine, and other positions for both the Board and Academy. In addition to her medical degree, Dr. Cordi has an M.S. in Biology Research and an M.P.H. in Healthcare Policy and Emergency Medical Services. She has remained on the frontlines of emergency healthcare throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and recently was awarded the EMS Physician of Excellence (2020). Prior to the pandemic, Dr. Cordi traveled for international medical mission and disaster response work - the Peruvian Andes, Nigeria, Malawi, Haiti, China – and she was a professor of emergency medicine and critical care at the Third People’s Hospital of Chengdu, China. She has also lectured not only in the United States but also Germany, India, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, and Italy. Dr. Cordi is a founding Board member of the Institute who continues to contribute her extensive medical knowledge and experience, as well as globally-minded stewardship, to the Institute’s mission and goals.

Zachary Walters, M.Eng.

Secretary/Treasurer & Board Member

Board Member since 2022

Zach is a mechanical engineer with a passion for renewable energy solutions and environmental activism. He owns his own construction company, specializing in solar and outdoor pond installations, and shares his skills as a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. Renovating vintage homes hold a special attraction for Zach and he currently is restoring a farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania, where he and his wife reside. Zach has been an outdoors enthusiast and environmental activist since childhood. He has worked as a ski instructor and first aid responder in northern California and is an experienced backpacker. Along with his wife, Zach is active in Rails to Trails projects and husky dog rescue groups.

Jeanne LeBlanc, Ph.D.

Board Member

Board Member since 2011
APA Presidential Citation Recipient

Born and raised in Florida, Dr. LeBlanc grew up in a disaster response family. She now resides in Vancouver, remaining active with many US-based and Canada-based organizations in disaster behavioral health and medically-focused international relief. As a member of Canada’s CMAT Disaster Behavioral Health Leadership, her work with the CMAT’s member wellness program plays an integral part in providing team support before, during, and after deployment. Dr. LeBlanc has served on numerous American Psychological Association committees, received a Presidential Citation from the APA in 2014, and was the first non-physician member to become a member of the American Academy of Disaster Medicine. As a clinical psychologist, her private practice focuses on the assessment and rehabilitation of issues related to brain injury. Dr. LeBlanc is an experienced sailboat captain and, with her husband, has sailed the Pacific Coast from San Diego to Vancouver in a single voyage.

Monique Tapie

Board Member

Board Member since 2022
Stevie Award for Best Multicultural Communications Campaign

For more than 20 years, Monique has been creating award-winning communications strategies for leading organizations and she is the co-founder of Shadwell GP. Her body of work has required a range of approaches - from advocacy to litigation and crisis communications, to multicultural grassroots strategies and media relations. Monique has paired her creative, impactful approach with vital influencer communications in some of the most challenging industries. Extensive experience working in both the United States and Europe has led her to develop deep insights , garnering her numerous awards, including a Stevie Award for Best Multicultural Communications Campaign. Monique’s views have appeared in Advertising Age, Brandweek, Inc. Magazine, L’Express of France, and The Washington Post. Fluent in French, she speaks frequently at conferences around the world. And Monique attributes being raised in an international household as the source of her passion for and deep understanding of cultures and human behavior. New to the Board, she looks forward to assisting the Institute with clear messaging and advocacy for our mission and our programs.

Amy Lynn Walters, B.A.

Board Member

Board Member since 2022
Aphasia Advocate & Ambassador

Amy started working for the medical device industry shortly after graduating from Harvard University in 1991, rising to the level of Vice President for Global Clinical Research. Her efforts in regulatory affairs, clinical research, and quality affairs for multiple companies earned her international recognition and respect. She also was the architect of clinical trials that led to the first-ever FDA PMA approval of an implanted device to treat cerebral aneurysms from within the aneurysm itself. While attending the Society of NeuroInterventional Surgery (SNIS) conference in 2017, Amy suffered a major stroke due to the sudden occlusion of her left internal carotid artery. With the support of her family, she has dedicated countless hours to physical and speech therapy sessions and now lives independently with her husband. Amy is an advocate for stroke and aphasia survivors, presenting regularly at meetings for healthcare providers, survivors, and caregivers. In 2019, the SNIS community established The Amy Walters Patient Lecture in her honor and she triumphantly took to the international stage as the inaugural lecturer. Amy volunteers as VP for National Aphasia Synergy, a charity founded and led by persons with aphasia to support the aphasia community. She lives their message of optimism and empowerment every day as a hiker, skier, and supporter of natural habitat protection.

Sadie Cook Walters, R.N.

Board Member

Board Member since 2022

Sadie is a cardiovascular intensive care nurse who also has worked as a disaster response. During the pandemic, she ran the vaccination clinics in Mono County, California and in 2017 she was part of the medical response in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Sadie worked for the forestry service prior to becoming a nurse, where she first became involved in trail building and environmental activism. Her love of hiking and botany continue to this day. Sadie also is an advocate for social justice, sustainability, animal welfare organizations, including the Hollywood Huskies national rescue organization.

David Billingsley, B.S.

Board Member

Board Member since 2022

Starting with a degree in Geography and Earth Science, Dave has spent nearly three decades bringing a globally and ecologically responsible approach to everything in life. He has worked as a boat captain, commercial fisherman, and an addictions counselor. As a lifelong conservation activist, Dave also has brought his environmental stewardship to a variety of property development and management projects with the incorporation of green energy and renewable technologies. He retired in 2017 to support the recovery needs of his wife, Amy Walters, and is very active in advocacy for stroke survivors and persons with aphasia. Dave enjoys hiking, skiing, traveling with his family, and supporting organizations which protect native ecosystems.
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High Alert Institute

4800 Ben Hill Trail
Lake Wales, FL 33898
Office: 863.696.8090
FAX: 407.434.0804


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Griffin Works offers Pawsitive Interactions with Service Dogs During Response Operations©, an audience-customized training that breaks down barriers by offering hands-on handling training and demonstrations with working service dogs for fire departments, EMS agencies, and public safety organizations.

Part of the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium and home to the National Emergency Response and Recovery Training Center, TEEX has been leading homeland security training since 1998. The major TEEX programs include fire and rescue, infrastructure and safety, law enforcement, economic and workforce development, and homeland security. As a member of The Texas A&M University System, TEEX is unique in its ability to access a broad range of emerging research and technical expertise. Beginning with course design and development all the way through hands-on instruction and national certification testing, TEEX delivers comprehensive training through both classroom and hands-on instruction and as online courses.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) was created by Congress in 2000 as part of the Children’s Health Act to raise the standard of care and increase access to services for children and families who experience or witness traumatic events. This unique network of child-serving professionals, caregivers and young adults, researchers, and national partners is committed to changing the course of children’s lives by improving their care and moving scientific gains quickly into practice across the U.S. The NCTSN is administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and coordinated by the UCLA-Duke University National Center for Child Traumatic Stress (NCCTS). 

The Emergency Management Institute (EMI) is part of the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The EMI provides national leadership in developing and delivering training to ensure that individuals and groups having key emergency management responsibilities possess the requisite skills to effectively perform their jobs.

The High Alert Institute maintains a list of reviewed courses provided by governments, universities and professional organizations. This list is geared towards the non-emergency management person who participates in disaster planning, preparedness, response, recovery or mitigation as part of their job responsibilities.

The High Alert Institute has partnered with Shutterstock to distribute stock images from the nature images donated by our supporters. For eligible stock images, Shutterstock will donate a portion of the royalty to the High Alert Institute. There is no cost to charitable organizations or to Shutterstock customers.

For eligible purchases through AmazonSmile, the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price to the High Alert Institute. There is no cost to charitable organizations or to AmazonSmile customers. All you need to do is push the SMILE NOW button and select to support THE HIGH ALERT INSTITUTE on AmazonSmile.

Koi need forever homes, too! For pond enthusiasts, freshwater exotic and ornamental fish may not be available through pet stores or rescues in their area. The High Alert Institute Aquatic Pet Shelter Rehoming Program will be happy to assist you in stocking your new pond or adding a new finned friend to your school. Coming soon – when you adopt a Koi from the High Alert Institute Aquatic Pet Shelter Rehoming Program, we can arrange for delivery to your door anywhere in the continental United States.

Have you always wanted a Koi pond but don’t have the space one? Sponsor a Koi in our community shelter pond and we send you photos of your sponsored animal. Coming soon are live Koi Cameras above and below the water to enjoy your sponsored Koi anytime.

Dumping of freshwater non-native species and exotic aquatic pets into wild habitats is a man-made disaster that is truly preventable. The Institute’s Aquatic Pet Welfare Partnership works to raise awareness and reduce the impact on healthy ecosystems through education, as well as rescue and rehoming. Joined by champions of animal welfare and environmental stewardship, this  association of aquatic pet rescue operations and aquatic pet shelters across the United States aims to save our finned friends and preserve our waterways together.

Want to share our cause with family, friends, and colleagues? Looking for a non-traditional way to celebrate a birthday or honor someone special? Support the Institute by starting your own Peer-to-Peer fundraising challenge! Let your contacts know why our mission is important to you and what they can do to support your cause. START YOUR OWN FUNDRAISER for the High Alert Institute.

From the staffing pool to the shelter ponds, from the boardroom to the classroom, and from reading the science to writing the analyses, High Alert Institute programs and services benefit from the experience, expertise, and generosity of our volunteers. Put your talents to use for good and to good use – VOLUNTEER TODAY.

Make your donation twice as nice by rehoming aquatic pets and providing a rehabilitation companion pet to a deserving person, family, or facility. Sponsor part or all of a Joy of Koi Program pond installation – complete with rehomed koi – and give the gifts of love and recovery.

Professional photographers, amateurs, and legal copywrite holders are all welcome to participate in the High Alert Institute Nature Photo Donation Program. Sales of the images benefit the Institute and donors are eligible for tax deductions equivalent to the fair market value of their photos. Landscapes, seascapes, animals, flowers – all may be accepted – whether new or vintage  images. People may be included in the photo but only if unidentifiable (i.e., blurred figures at a distance).

Did you know that unused patents and copyrights can be donated to charity? Intellectual Property (IP) just sitting on a shelf will lose value as it becomes obsolete. The High Alert Institute IP Donation Program seeks to rescue stranded, technology-related IP with the potential for development into marketable products. Once accepted by the program, the owner/inventor is eligible for a tax deduction equivalent to the fair market value of the IP. The Institute receives the patent licensing fees or revenue from the sale of the IP to businesses, helping us to fund our mission. In turn, businesses are able to advance their markets and create jobs for less money than starting a project from scratch.

Disasters are defined as situations in which needs exceed or overwhelm available resources. Some disasters affect an entire community, while other disasters impact individuals and families. Crises of physical or psychological health can be very personal disasters.
The therapeutic value of pets during illness, trauma, and recovery is well established. And Koi fish may be well suited for people who are not able to provide verbal pet commands or physically care for pets like dogs and cats. Koi ponds are also a source of beauty and peace, providing an ideal setting for quiet reflection or meditation.
We are working to partner with pond installers and aquatic pet rescues/shelters to offer free or reduced-cost ponds with rehomed Koi fish to people seeking this type of pet therapy.

Disasters disrupt life and impact our sense of personal, family, and community safety. Survivors and responders alike often are not aware of the emotional, psychological or spiritual challenges that they may face from disaster onset through recovery. With two decades of experience training responders and communities to prepare for the behavioral health aspects of disasters, we will continue to provide education and a curated list of resources to groups or individuals.

Non-medical factors that impact overall health are termed Social Determinants of Health or SDoH. Noise pollution, poor air quality, and poor water quality are three environmental factors known to have a strong link to overall health. And the same environmental factors that impact humans impact their pets and other animals in their care. We continue to assist in advocacy, education, and technology development to mitigate the impact of SDoH on humans and animals alike.

Our efforts in shelter and rescue are the main focus of our environmental stewardship, reducing the environmental impact of non-native aquatic animals being dumped into public waterways. The High Alert Institute also assists innovators with the design, development, and evaluation of green and renewable energy technologies. Reducing the carbon footprint associated with disaster preparedness, response, and recovery furthers our continued mission to mitigate risk and improve resilience.

We partner with public and private organizations, sharing resources and fostering partnerships to improve disaster preparedness, response, and recovery, and mitigation.

The High Alert Institute team has over a century of combined research experience in medical, nursing, behavioral health, and disaster sciences. Our team provides support to researchers and technology developers through comprehensive literature searches and reviews, as well as failure mode database searches and adjudicated reviews.

When disaster strikes, most aquatic pet owners have limited options to secure the safety of their pets. Sheltering in place may not be possible if there is no power to provide aeration and “pet-friendly” shelters do not include ponds or aquariums. Our goal is to provide an option for aquatic pet owners in need of rescue and shelter for their finned friends.

Our goal is to share our two decades of disaster readiness experience with animal welfare organizations, shelters, caretakers, and pet owners, as they implement contingency  plans for natural and manmade disasters.