Online Education — Implications for Higher Education in Emergency Management

Online education and Financial Aid

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This is a continuation of the discussion I started two days ago about the declining state of higher education in emergency management. One contributor, but not the only one, is the aggressive marketing of the for-profit, online educational institutions. This posting adds some details about that community.

Clearly the state of higher education in EM is a “hot button” for a lot of people —  I got more comments on the last posting than on any other topic to date.

Online Education (a $34B dollar operation) is definitely a phenomenon to be acknowledged, both as a market force and as a fast-growing component of our higher education system. And it surely has both positive and negative implications for those of us concerned with Higher Education in Emergency Management. This “infographic,” which was produced by the online education industry’s national association, provides some interesting numbers. This interest group is capable of some slick and powerful publicity/lobbying efforts.

Here is an example of a recent pitch: How Online Education Is Changing the Way We Learn.

Note their claim that by 2019 about 50% of all classes will be taught online.

Personally, I am quite worried about the trend.  After all, our doctors and lawyers are not being trained online — at least yet.  Do we really want emergency managers, who may have to make  critical decisions, to be trained remotely?  The essential question is:  do we consider emergency management a profession or a trade?

Also, many of those who like the online learning mode are clearly deficient in writing skills.  Just take a look at some of the comments that follow the article cited above and it’s quite  clear that the short comments are riddled with basic grammatical errors. I can only imagine what a full-length paper would look like.  Sadly, many students do not know what they do not know.

Finally, I want to give a plea for renewed emphasis on the essential skills of critical thinking and effective writing.  This is addressed to both classroom and distance instructors.

Why Is It So Hard to Sustain Interest in Comprehensive EM?

Map of USA with Iowa highlighted

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After mounting an effective recovery effort for recent floods, the State of Iowa is ending its efforts. Rebuild Iowa Office to shut down. June 6.

The agency that coordinated the state’s recovery from the historic flood and tornado disasters of 2008 is going out of business, even though the debate about preventing future floods is far from over.

The Rebuild Iowa Office – which had about 21 employees at its peak – will close on June 23 in accordance with law requiring it to “sunset” after three years. However, state officials hope its work will be a blueprint for responding to future emergencies.

“I think the structure and the framework we put in place made a difference in the 2008 disaster recovery. There has been a lot of hard work that has resulted in best practices, benchmarks and models for the nation,” said Lt. Gen. Ron Dardis, who served as chairman of the Rebuild Iowa Advisory Commission and later as the agency’s executive director. He retired in January.

As reported by CNN today, Iowa is about to experience new flooding.  What does it take to get folks to think long-term and strategically about their vulnerabilities and risks?

Use of digital media for disaster recovery – the NZ example

In the course of recent online research regarding the Canterbury, NZ earthquake, I was given a website produced by GNS Science, which contains a comprehensive list of information about the quake. (GNS is a”research institute operating as a limited liability company owned by the New Zealand government.)

In reviewing it, it became clear to me that the folks in NZ have effectively taken advantage of several forms of new digital technology; namely, Google maps, a recovery blog, data gathering from citizens, GIS, and more. For example, they not only have a link to their twitter feed but also a twitter “how to”  so that citizens can understand how to follow the latest information and/or send out their own tweets using hashtags designated for the quake.

In the U.S., most of the discussions regarding the use of digital technology have focused on the response and preparedness phases of emergency management.  But the NZ website site demonstrates how many of the new means of gathering data and communicating can be used for the  recovery phase as well.

By means of  comparison, here are some details about the recent BP Oil Spill disaster in the U.S.  The BP Oil Spill Restore the Gulf website provides information in a highly polished format, but the communication only goes one-way. And the seemingly interactive “Ask a Responder” tab is pre-scripted: the questions and answers are already provided and the opportunity to actually ask a question is zero. Furthermore, the site does not include any place for citizens to record their experiences with the disaster, though there is a tab with a list of phone numbers to “report a concern”.  In contrast, the NZ GNS site has a “felt it” questionnaire for citizens to fill out their observations of the quake. (It should be noted that the U.S.Geological Survey does have a stand alone Did you Feel it website for earthquakes).

In short, while many public agencies in the U.S. use social media, this NZ one-stop shop model, produced by a credible, semi-autonomous national agency, should be useful to U.S. communities and organizations responsible for managing the recovery process. After a disaster, providing information to citizens as well as providing an opportunity for them to record their experiences, probably will be something the public comes to expect, if not demand.

[Thanks to Mr. Ian McLean and Ms Kim Stephens for their assistance.]

Planning for Recovery Prior to the Disaster Event

Statue of John Harvard, founder of Harvard Uni...

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Some call it pre-event planning and others call it advance planning for recovery. Whichever term you use, the process is worth highlighting again.  Recently Eric Holdermann’s blog captured some advice from a seminar at Harvard on the topic of advance recovery planning.  Although that info is not yet available online, some of the recent work by Harvard University professors can be found below:

Herman B. “Dutch” Leonard and Arnold M. Howitt. 2010. Advance Recovery and the Development of Resilient Organisations and Societies. In Simon Woodward (Ed.), Integrative Risk Management: Advanced Disaster Recovery (pp. 45-58). Zurich: Swiss Reinsurance Company Ltd.

Recommended Blog Resources

This is the first installment of Recommended Blog Resources on environment, disasters, and emergency management.  If you have an ongoing interest in these topics, you will want to collect new sources.  I welcome suggestions from readers, so that I can add to this list.

(1) Andrew Revkin (N.Y Times blogger) writes the Dot Earth blog, http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com. See his Blogroll list at lower right-hand column of his homepage.

(2) John Solomon writes the Incaseofemergencyblog, http://Incaseofemergencyblog.com.  See his blogroll , also at lower right side of homepage.

Pakistan – disaster recovery under extreme conditions and great scrutiny

As noted here many times, the recovery process is a complex one and one that is hard to accomplish in the U.S.  When the U.S. participates in the international response to a major to catastrophic disaster in another sovereign nation – especially underdeveloped ones,  such as Haiti or Pakistan — the problems grow almost at a logarythmic  rate.  Added to all of the elements of recovery are issues of morality, strategic significance, and existential concerns.  An opinion piece in the Wash. Post highlights some of these added concerns. Pakistan flood relief is in America’s strategic interest, Sept. 1, 2010.

The challenge for the Obama administration and other governments is to develop new mechanisms — similar to those, perhaps, that the United Nations has devised for rebuilding Haiti after its earthquake in January — that would enable relief and reconstruction with maximum transparency and honesty. If this is done successfully, the Pakistani government and its international allies, the United States included, could gain prestige in the eyes of a skeptical people. The alternative is a vacuum that extreme Islamist groups are already attempting to fill.  The American people must be there when the floodwaters recede. The moral justification is compelling enough. But the strategic rationale is real, too.

A related report, well written and compelling, was issued by the U.S. Institute of Peace, on August 17th, titled: Flooding Challenges Pakistan’s Government and the International Community. It makes a somewhat different case for the U.S. aid to Pakistan, highlighting the link between disaster recovery and peacebuilding.  A notable observation in that report is:

Unfortunately, disaster management priorities are often focused on immediate visible results rather than the less tangible and long-term goals of stable peace, good governance, and sustainable development. Saving lives is undoubtedly essential. At the same time, how disasters are managed can have a long-term impact on the conflict context. Disaster managers must ensure that short-term interventions also carry positive long-term impacts on societies that have already experienced considerable suffering.

Additional article, posted on Sept. 2, is well worth reading.  It deals primarily with the digital media and the mechanics of providing assistance to Pakistan, providing a very interesting contrast with the Haiti catastrophic earthquake earlier this year. See A Month In, Pakistan Flood Relief Efforts Stuck at 1.0, in Wired magazine .