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Faces of Food Safety: David Sandler – Ensuring FSIS is Prepared

David Sandler presents refresher COOP information. Photo by Katherine Luers, SIPRS.

Jonathan “David” Sandler helps FSIS prepare for emergencies. The senior preparedness and response coordinator with the Significant Incident Preparedness and Response Staff (SIPRS), is part of a team that helps FSIS prepare for emergencies, plan for Continuity of Operations (COOP) and manage the FSIS Food Defense Program that is designed to protect the U.S. food supply from threats. During his 12 years at FSIS, Sandler has principally worked on COOP and the Agency’s Emergency Management Committee (EMC), a round-the-clock leadership team that addresses any significant incident. 

Sandler finds working on emergency preparedness both challenging and rewarding. He says, “My job as one of the SIPRS team is all about ensuring that leadership and direction of the Agency are always in place, so folks know they’re safe at the dinner table.”  COOP plays an important role in those efforts. 

Continuity planning ensures that FSIS can perform mission critical essential functions during a wide range of emergency situations, including natural disasters, communications issues due to system breakdown or loss of power — essentially, any kind of resource challenge. COOP involves identifying as many of those challenges as possible and finding possible solutions in advance. It also involves succession planning for every leadership role in the Agency, including out-of-area succession if headquarters leadership is not available. 

“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration when FSIS leadership says that all jobs in the Agency impact the nation. Everything we do, in one way or the other, supports continuous inspection of FSIS-regulated product to ensure food safety.”

David Sandler, SIPRS

Sandler led SIPRS as acting director during the partial government shutdown in December 2018 and January 2019, and he continued that role for several more months. “It was a great experience to work directly with the Office of the Administrator on all issues pertaining to SIPRS and its responsibilities,” he said about the experience. “Though it was a difficult period, I think SIPRS came out as a stronger, even more cohesive staff.”

FSIS empowers Sandler and SIPRS to be successful in protecting public health. He receives assistance in the form of new ideas from the USDA-level COOP team and from the rest of the continuity community in USDA — his counterparts in other USDA agencies and programs. He also learns best practices from other federal agencies. Said Sandler, “The interactions among this extended team are extremely valuable, particularly as all of us working toward continuity strive to ensure that we’re following the directives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for USDA and FSIS COOP planning. FSIS leadership also recognizes the importance of continuity planning and commits time and funding to ensuring the Agency is well-prepared to address a continuity scenario.” 

There is no “typical day” in SIPRS. Said Sandler, “COOP planning is constant. I work with the program areas of FSIS, like the Office of Field Operations and the Office of Management, to ensure that their continuity preparations are as up to date as possible. I provide training to people new to continuity planning or to the Emergency Management Committee, as well as to anyone who simply wants some refresher training on either. COOP planning evolves as new recommendations come from FEMA or USDA, and a good part of my day is devoted to adjusting or updating our FSIS plans, equipment and procedures.”

Sandler believes he performs his job better when he is able to bounce ideas off colleagues and get their input, “I think the roots of this go back to points earlier in my career. I’ve been very fortunate to have had several jobs where I managed various projects that hinged on consensus building. The teams I was managing were always made up of incredibly intelligent people — from government, academia and industry. It taught me to listen to and respect people’s ideas and suggestions, and to be open to that input in formulating whatever my own position needed to be.”

While Sandler believes “all of us in FSIS have to possess all of the core values in order to perform our jobs to the highest professional level,” his work in SIPRS is highly Solutions-Oriented. While SIPRS plans and prepares for direction of the Agency’s functions for all continuity challenges they have identified, new ideas and challenges arise all the time. SIPRS is constantly reevaluating. Sandler describes his co-workers as, “Subject matter experts. Each one of them — and an excellent team to work with.”

When asked if he thinks his job is important to FSIS, to USDA and to the nation, Sandler replied, “Yes, I definitely do. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration when FSIS leadership says that all jobs in the Agency impact the nation. Everything we do, in one way or the other, supports continuous inspection of FSIS-regulated product to ensure food safety.” 

He said his job gives him a lot of personal satisfaction. “I tried to instill in my three kids, as they were looking toward career paths, to strive for something that would make them feel, at the end of the day, they had made people’s lives better. I think all of us in FSIS can feel proud about how we directly impact everyone in this country by ensuring that the food they eat is safe,” said Sandler.

Sandler is married to Hilde Vetters, a native of Belgium; they met in an international performance group that was comprised of five casts (each with 100-plus college students) that travelled around the globe for a year putting on shows as a vehicle for learning about world cultures. They still love to travel, mostly to visit her extended family in Belgium and their three adult children and six grandchildren in Spain and California.

 

Last Modified Feb 25, 2020