Higher Education in Emergency Management – 14th annual conference

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The diva was out of town the past few days, attending the annual Higher Ed Conference, sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  Lots of issues were discussed and some of them are worth talking about here in the coming days.  For more details about the conference, and a list of resources provided by that program, go to this site.

I participated in two sessions, one dealing with the outcome of an invitational workshop on recovery theory, held last Nov. and the other a session on the uses of social media for emergency management.  Re the first, the results still are not fully analyzed and documented; the topic remains a difficult one to describe, let alone provide insights and guidance for.  (If it were easy, we might have a Recovery Framework by now.)

The applications of social media to EM, a topic that interests lots of people, benefited from an array of panelists representing private, non-profit/humanitarian, and public sector users and promoters.  The audience had lots of good questions too. Although this topic was covered in a session at Higher Ed last year, the level of knowledge and sophistication of questions was much higher this year. It’s  interesting to be able to observe a significant gain in knowledge and experience in a year.

What was not so positive was the general discomfort and disappointment that many educators expressed privately.  From my conversations with many participants, I have some impressions I want to share.  My observations of the problems that are bothering people include:

  • admission policies for Higher Ed EM programs that are so open that many unqualified students are beginning graduate work inadequately prepared
  • inadequately qualified instructors, particularly the adjunct faculty working for for-profit institutions
  • lack of standards, certification, criteria for completing advance degrees; and the related concern that not-well-qualified people will be hired for EM operational positions that will require knowledge and skills many graduates do not have
  • FEMA is not doing enough to help to show commitment and direction for the Higher Ed program.  For example , three key jobs at the EMI are not filled with permanent hires  – – Superintendent of EMI, Fire Administrator (political appointee), and Director of the Higher Ed program ( formerly filled by Dr. Wayne Blanchard).

Given the large number of academic institutions offering courses in emergency management — more than 200 — I think the field can be seen as a new frontier.  What is unusual, for the emergency management community, is the advent of  so many new academic organizations.  The relatively new organizations (mostly for-profit,  mostly digital operations, and not traditional academic institutions as we know them, seem to be at the heart of most of the major issues.  As was true in our own western frontier in the 1800s, some of the new folks in town are somewhat brash, profit-seeking, lawless, and lacking social constraints.

I would be glad to hear from others, whether you do or do not share my concern about the “malaise.”  Somehow this condition has come to the forefront this past year.

Please be sure to read the comments to this post; I think they are very worthwhile.

9 thoughts on “Higher Education in Emergency Management – 14th annual conference

  1. Claire
    Having participated in similar discussions at this year’s Higher Ed conference, I agree completely with your assessment on the disturbing direction of EM higher education. I would add that the issues you mentioned also can be found in the non-profit schools and universities. Several require only a bachelor’s degree as entrance to grad school–no other proof of competency. Students enter with no ability to think critically or write clearly (how did they ever get a bachelor’s???). When graded accordingly, they complain about the professor instead of accepting their own shortcomings and taking steps to improve themselves. These folks are not ready nor suitable to be emergency managers. Nor do they seem to realize that their degree may get them in the door (jobwise), but they may not last when their employer realizes just how ill-prepared they are. And fairly quickly employers will pick-up on the poor quality of the graduates from xx university or college, and stop hiring them.

    A recent article goes right to the hear of this issue: “What’s a college education really worth? Not Enough”; Sunday, June 5, 2011. Here is the link: http://www.statesman.com/news/opinion/riley-what-college-education-really-worth-not-enough/ncRpUeuocZLF6jVTzpIPXM/

    Clearly this state of EM Higher Ed is a hot topic that needs to be explored by the Higher Ed community.

  2. Claire – nice summary. The one thing I would add is that I’m really interested in how FEMA’s new Emergency Management Academy fares. It is more on the training side than the education side, but at least it is a recognition that being a good emergency manager requires more than being a former — whatever.

  3. Valerie,

    I can’t agree more with your comment ‘being a good emergency manager requires more than being a former — whatever’.

    Knowing years ago that being a fireman or a nurse or a cop isn’t the full qualification of an efficient and cognizant EM. It is the reason I went for multiple masters and a PhD. I can’t tell you how many folks from the field have come to me looking for a job as an EM without any education in the field.


  4. Claire:

    It was great to see you at the conference, albeit in somewhat abbreviated form. Your observations and comments are interesting.

    One correction is submitted, i.e. the position at the National Fire Academy hasn’t been vacant for 14 years, my good friend Dr. Denis Onieal has held that position since the mid 90’s and unless he was fired, transfered as I was, retired, or died this weekend that job is not vacant. As you may recall, he spoke to us on the opening day in lieu of the US Fire Administrator (a political appointee position that remains vacant)or the Deputy Fire Administrator, who was on travel.


    • Thanks for the correction. And best wishes on a speedy recovery.

      I think the basic point about lack of attention and investment on the part of the FEMA leadership for the Higher Ed program still holds. The majority of people who have responded, a few more than are posted on this blog, agree that we are in a serious situation, if not in a crisis status, presently with regard to higher education of emergency managers. And also they agree that the state of graduate education is in a sorry state in this county.

  5. I have to agree with your assessment totally 100%! Thanks for the nice overview, you put in “print” in a succinct way what still was bouncing around in my head.
    Dave Neal
    ps – and Rocky, we hope to see you next year, too!

  6. I regret missing the conference this year, and appreciate hearing the news you have to share. I am glad to learn about the higher sophistication regarding social media & EM. It was fun to kick off that conversation at last year’s HigherEd Conf with you.

    I also agree about concerns about the rudderless ship. Long vacancies for key positions portend lack of considering how important EMI is to professional education in the field — I certainly have benefited much from taking, and later teaching, many courses.

    As for students graduating without the real skills necessary to do the job — I see it clearly where I work, in who is being hired, and what they claim they can do and then observing what they can’t. But there are some coming into the profession from other venues, such as those who get preference points for federal jobs, but who don’t have the knowledge or experience for higher-level positions for which they are being hired. Scary.

    Unfortunately, I can’t sign on since I refuse to allow any applications to access my Facebook account, so I’ll just leave my name and use the guest-entry.

    Miss you — thanks for sharing and I look forward to more.

    Rocky Lopes

    • Thanks for writing in. We missed you.
      Regarding social media, it was amazing how far we all have come in just one year — judging by the questions in the session this year, the audience was much more familiar with social media applications as compared with last year.


  7. Claire

    You are spot on regarding

    1. ‘prepared students’ being admitted into graduate certificate / degree programs that do not have basic writing and people skills (as well as the fact that many graduate programs are not set up involving robust practicums as well as coming out of the programs with BCP, CEM, and HAZWOPER certifications);

    2. sarcastically, is everyone an experienced instructor? ( Well I read this and observe this… I have come across too many ill qualified instructors, especially wit hno real world experience ……disturbing);

    3.standards in curriculum is key as well as core competencies and;

    4. We need a captain… the ship is going to ground itself as well as many rumors abound about the demise of EMI.

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