Training the next generation of emergency managers

by Zhenya Gallon

Ask most emergency managers where they got their training and they’ll tell you, “On the job.” The Emergency Management Institute of the Federal Emergency Management Agency is out to change that with its Higher Education Project, in partnership with scores of colleges and universities across the country. Wayne Blanchard, who runs the project with the help of one assistant, is working with NCAR’s Environmental and Societal Impacts Group to explore potential collaborations and put out the call for more course developers.

No one’s profiled the demographics of county-level emergency managers recently, but Blanchard’s snapshot of the stereotype—acknowledging exceptions—is a white, middle-aged man who started out in a different career. Frequently he still wears other hats, such as fire department chief. He has minimal access to top decision makers, has not formulated risk or mitigation plans, does not keep up with disaster research literature, and is isolated from the community he serves. His job is reactive, often part time, and often underpaid and underfunded.

Degree and certificate programs at four-year colleges can’t replace hands-on experience, Blanchard says, but they can expand the knowledge base of future managers, building a more diverse, community-focused corps of professionals for whom emergency management is a conscious career choice.

“This is a 20-year project to bring in a new generation of emergency managers,” Blanchard says. The goal is a cadre of articulate advocates who can build and defend the case for disaster prevention and reduction with elected and appointed officials at all levels.

Nothing short of a paradigm shift is called for, in Blanchard’s view. Traditional emergency management focuses on a hazard or disaster as an event and seeks to control it. “I call that the technocratic approach,” he says. “If that’s all you’re doing, it’s not enough.” The professional programs advocated by Blanchard and other members of the hazards research community focus on building disaster-resilient communities by examining vulnerabilities. “The vulnerability model asks why there’s differential impact in a community. It’s a different way of looking at the world.”

A typical program following this model brings together courses in engineering, architecture, public administration, and the earth and social sciences. The project has assembled an annotated list of colleges and universities offering programs. Numerous course syllabi are posted online, along with lectures, reading lists, and PowerPoint presentations that serve as textbooks at several institutions (see “On the Web”).

When the project began in 1995 there were five programs offered at four-year institutions in the United States: three leading to a bachelor of science and two offering certificates. Growth has been exponential since then. In mid-2002 there were 81 college- level emergency management programs, including certificates, minors, and diplomas (34), associate degrees (11), bachelor’s degrees (8), master’s programs (21), and doctoral programs (7). Another 90 to 100 were under development or investigation, and the rate of growth was about one new collegiate program per month. “September 11th accelerated the rate, but it was doing well before,” Blanchard notes.

The project has paid for creating a number of upper-division, classroom-based courses (all peer reviewed and available as instructor guides at the Web site), and many more are under development. Blanchard is always looking for new course developers, especially those willing to work as part of a team. The project has formed partnerships for course development, internships, or funding with the Association of State Floodplain Managers, NOAA’s Coastal Services Center, NSF, the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management, the Public Entity Risk Institute, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The number of graduates, positions, and salaries are all on the rise: “We’re making the case for professionalism.” Blanchard can be contacted at 301-447-1262, wayne.blanchard@fema.gov

 


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