The Changing Face of Emergency Management Education

By Jim Mullen
Emergency Management, Once Removed

Whenever the subject of preparing emergency managers for the future a couple of familiar refrains are sounded. Here are some of them:

  • Who is teaching? What is being learned? Recently more actual emergency managers are becoming adjunct faculty, in some cases while they are still working in the discipline; others, recently retired possess a wealth of practical information as well as “book learnin” to convey. This is positive. For too long even professional associations sometimes deferred to academicians with limited or very narrow expertise in our discipline. That’s changing.
  • Who is best suited to become an emergency manager? Is there a “certifiable” career path? Our discipline is seeing more people that have chosen the emergency management career path as opposed to “accidentals” (like me). Academically and professionally prepared personnel are being grounded at Pierce College and the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Center of Excellence. At the same time, it would be sheer negligence to deny the potential contributions of those professionals arriving in mid-career, just as it would be foolish to argue that there is no room for young, technologically savvy persons in entry level positions.
  • RE entry level jobs, why are there so few of them in emergency management? Part of the problem is the paucity of positions in government emergency management units. When a director is understaffed, it is tempting to try to find someone who seems immediately able to perform not one, but more than one job as needed. Versatility is a key attribute. Resume reviews often weight the volume of experience (i.e. years) over other factors. The professional baseball scout who signed a very excellent baseball prospect (Eric Davis) described Davis at age 19 as 6’3″ and 190 lbs. Although that ultimately was pretty accurate when he was 25, at age 19 Davis was more like 5’11 and 155 lbs! When questioned, the scout said “I signed him for what he will be, not what he is today.” Emergency management should resist the narrow instincts of human resource offices in their organizations and hire at least some of the time for the potential they see, and not for what approaches have already been baked into a candidate in his/her other roles.
  • So, what are the characteristics of the emergency management professional that educational systems should nurture in its students? We can demand from candidates increased technological skills, the ability to process information but also an appreciation that they “know what they do not know.” The value of academic preparation for an emergency management career cannot be denied, but that preparation should include immersion into the sociology of being effective in a government or private sector bureaucracy. Problem solving skills, compassion, a sense of purpose, and personal integrity are not academic or technological skills – these are human attributes without which no one could succeed in emergency management. Class dismissed.

Subscribe to the Emergency Management, Once Removed Blog Feed
HINT: The RSS feed works in Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari but a free extension is needed if browsing in Google Chrome.