Californiaa€™s training chief, Curry Mayer, addresses effective emergency management education.
A field exercise in 2012 used a 50-bed mobile field hospital taken from one of the three 200-bed hospitals maintained in California. Curry Mayer is the state training chief for California’s Office of Emergency Services (OES).
Mayer responded to questions about emergency management training, the pros and cons of online training courses and what makes for effective training for the profession. The Cal OES Training Branch is responsible for emergency management and homeland security training for state and local government personnel and the private sector.
We also develop customized courses based on an agency’s specific role and responsibilities in emergency management. In such a large state, how is training delivered by your organization and who are your target audiences? Our target audience is anyone involved in emergency management or homeland security activities, which actually includes most public and private organizations. Many of the key principles of ICS came directly from the California Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS). We have done so by explaining how those concepts work even if you are not a firefighter or police officer or some other area of public safety. It is possible to practice activities online, however, practicing new concepts with other participants not only helps with retention, but provides the additional benefit of interaction with those who often also provide different perspectives. I have had many organizations come to me after their personnel have completed some type of online training and say that they now want training of the same type with a live instructor, because they feel the concepts did not stick with participants. What types of training are best suited for online delivery, and what is best done in a conventional classroom setting? Basic concepts may be successfully conveyed in an online setting, but must be followed up with some type of practice.
Emergency management courses are best accomplished with a live instructor and the ability for participants to interact with one another during class.
Training with practical exercises and activities is the most effective in conveying complex concepts while providing opportunities for practicing new roles and responsibilities in a safe environment. Twenty-five years ago the focus on training in emergency management was on the Professional Development Series (PDS).
What are the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to perform the tasks an emergency manager will be called on to do?
Most emergency managers would agree that the acquisition of those skills is best gained through a variety of sources: formal education (including classroom, activity focused courses) online, exercises and real-world experience.
What’s your advice to people seeking a career in emergency management with no direct experience?
The best way to get some practical experience is to do volunteer work, not only for the traditional organizations that we usually think of, such as the American Red Cross, but also by talking with local emergency managers and offering your services. What advice do you have for midcareer professionals who have five to 10 years of experience in emergency management? Branching out into a segment of emergency management that is new for them provides an opportunity to add new skills, make new contacts and expand their perspective of emergency management. There are usually no-cost or low cost courses and easily accessible research in almost every area. We are bombarded with so much information from so many different sources it can become overwhelming.
What advice do you have for senior emergency managers in supervisory positions and lead emergency management programs? For senior emergency managers who provide direction to programs, the most important thing to remember is to surround yourself with subject-matter experts and then use them to your advantage.
As a senior emergency manager, remember that you don’t have to know all the answers, you just need to know where to go to get them. The most useful training I have ever received was as a new instructor at our California Specialized Training Institute (CSTI).
It begins with basic emergency management concepts and progresses to emergency operations center functions. It includes extensive small group activities, much of which are done after class (in the evenings), which is bonding for participants and mirrors those relationships they would have in a real setting. Participant background skills and experience are culled to place participants in a role in the exercise that will be of benefit when they go back to their regular job. Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management. North Dakota State Universitya€™s general education course brings emergency management information to students across the campus, developing a better informed citizenry and workforce. North Dakota State University offers a general education course on emergency management a€” will other higher education institutions follow in its path?
North Dakota State University began offering a general education course focused on emergency management during the fall 2012 semester after making a series of changes to an existing class and seeing an opportunity to engage more students on the subject. The course was originally focused on technical government policy and doctrine and intended to be an introduction for students majoring in emergency management. The initial modification was to change the course level and title to EMGT 101: Emergencies, Disasters and Catastrophes in fall 2008, with the goal of using the class name to open up its coverage to allow a range of topics to be covered while also attracting students in majors outside of emergency management.
The class remains an introduction for future emergency managers, while also educating students who will become nurses, government officials and construction managers, for example, on topics including preparedness. Understand the layers of approval at your institution for getting a general education course approved.
Understand your institution’s perspective on general education and what those courses are supposed to accomplish for students.
Be prepared for success by knowing your department’s teaching capacity and how that could be adjusted if the course quickly becomes popular. The course is teaching students to see how emergency management impacts their future career field, as well as how they should work with emergency managers and others in the profession. Managing Editor Elaine Pittman has nearly a decade of experience in writing and editing, having started her career with The Coloradoan daily newspaper in Fort Collins, Colo. Ita€™s no longer a question about whether degrees are an important part of emergency management. Emergency management is officially a profession — defined as having a core body of knowledge, an ethical framework, standards and university programs offering education and degrees.

When considering where and how to get that degree, the question of delivery platforms becomes sticky.
Emergency management isn’t the only academic discipline where the value of distance education and learning programs is questionable.
For everything else, however, there can be significant advantages to learning in cyberspace instead of a traditional classroom. Underserved populations: Online courses are still the first choice for the military and students overseas (like the Foreign Service). Knowledge: Because they come from everywhere, there is an amazing wealth of knowledge among students in online emergency management courses, and the interactive discussions can be amazing. Professionals: The Internet makes it easier for students to connect with emergency management luminaries like William Waugh, Dennis Mileti, George Haddow, Wayne Blanchard and Claire Rubin, among others. Writing: Online courses require a lot of writing, which translates to using good grammar, punctuation and formatting. One of the biggest advantages of an online degree program is that the teacher does not automatically command a presence, as he or she would in a traditional classroom. Even considering the advantages to an online degree, one of the criticisms about emergency management degrees is experience. Many degree programs offer, or require, internships or externships — matching students with a professional emergency manager for an entire semester or a year.
Dorothy Miller, the emergency management coordinator for Round Rock, Texas, teaches a Field Exercise Project Course for the Crisis and Disaster Management program at the University of Central Missouri. As part of my Risk and Crisis Communication course at California State University, Long Beach, students are required to complete a project for a real-life emergency manager. Developing an elected official’s guide for David Maack, the emergency management coordinator for Racine County, Wis. Analyzed current practices in engaging students in the campus emergency notification system for Nick Crossley, an emergency manager at the University of California, Davis.
Writing an Emergency Communication Guide template for Jeff Robinson at the Office of Disaster Management, Area G of Los Angeles County. Researching the capabilities and functions for disaster response for Patrice Cloutier at CrisisCommons. Reviewing social media in communication plans for Shannan Saunders at the Ministry of the Attorney General in Ontario. Students in most degree programs are required to do a capstone project or thesis, which generally requires them to work with a community partner. It turns out not to be so difficult, perhaps easier than in a brick-and-mortar course, it just requires some creativity and curiosity on the part of the instructor. One of the major issues in emergency management education today is the lack of consistency in program delivery, because it is such a new field (it’s almost unheard of to go from an occupation to an academic discipline in 20 years).
Meanwhile, students have to do some research to decide where to get an emergency management degree. The International Association of Emergency Managers' (IAEM) Student Region does a membership survey that’s presented at the annual FEMA Higher Ed Symposium. One of the keynote speakers at the recent FEMA Higher Ed Symposium, Bruce Lockwood, president of IAEM-USA, reiterated that education is different than training. Today’s emergency manager needs a good academic education, as well as training and experience. Valerie Lucus-McEwen is a certified emergency manager, certified business continuity professional and an adjunct professor for California State University, Long Beach. With the advent of the Internet, distance learning has come to dominate many aspects of emergency management training, especially the delivery of Incident Command System (ICS) basic courses. She has 20 years of experience in emergency management and all aspects of training, from program management to curriculum design.
For example, we developed specialized activities within the ICS framework for the Department of Water Resources, Department of Food and Agriculture, and utility companies. While we recommend online training for basic concepts, we have found that for those whose main job is not emergency management, in-person training coupled with workshop activities is the most meaningful and is better absorbed by participants. ICS is an easily understood system that expands and contracts to manage all types of events, from small to very complex. If your main job is not emergency management, in-person training with workshop activities to reinforce concepts and roles is most effective.
Online training is also a good vehicle for refresher training following an in-person classroom experience. In-person, interactive training that includes a tabletop exercise that reinforces concepts learned in training is highly successful with excellent retention rates. The answer to that is complex, as it depends on not only your geographical location, but also on the level of government at which you work, the discipline under which you primarily operate (law, fire or general public safety, etc.) whether you have support staff, and the knowledge, skills and abilities of your co-workers.
Most local governments welcome someone who is enthusiastic and willing to learn while helping out. It is important for new emergency managers to blend academic work with hands-on experience. Deciding on what areas to focus on and what sources of information are most accurate and accessible is key to keeping up with new ideas and new technologies while not becoming overwhelmed. Also, the tried-and-true concepts and methods can always be improved upon, but that also doesn’t mean they should be thrown out.
That provides not only different perspectives, but also mirrors what real-life collaboration will be like. A participant can complete the certificate course within 12 months from the start of the programme. As the enrollment increased and more students outside of the emergency management major signed up, the discussion began over developing it into a general education course. Jensen said the size of the class is limited by the classroom space available, with more than 100 students registered for the course this semester. Look closely at the requirements for general education designation and what would need to be changed in a current course or develop a new offering with those requirements in mind. Jensen said the process at North Dakota State University took a year from when the application was submitted through its approval.
But when considering where and how to get a degree, therea€™s a big question about the best platform. Some faculty members find more value in face-to-face lectures, and the lack of physical social interaction isn’t best for everyone.

Students are drawn into the material because it is supported by other students and not just the professor. The most basic tenant of a good emergency manager is communication — not just speaking, but writing reports, papers, memos, grants and proposals. Several years ago, Lindsey Holman, then a student in the Arkansas Tech Emergency Management program, spent a summer working with me at the University of California, Davis.
Students learn the fundamental steps involved in designing, conducting and evaluating various types of exercises using Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program principles. Students are writing grant proposals, analyzing and recommending policies, and writing plans for specific community needs (including social media, landslides, vulnerable populations, climate change or cloud-based document preservation).
FEMA has been sponsoring a series of focus groups to develop academic standards and an accreditation process, but it might be several years before that can be implemented.
The number of online degree programs and the number of students enrolled in online degree programs are increasing. The number of students in online degree programs has increased from 50 percent in 2009 to 75 percent in 2014. ICS is an extremely effective and efficient tool that may be used to manage virtually any large event, disaster and non-disaster, or a large complex project. And due to the fact that California experiences all types of disasters, we have been able to successfully use ICS in a variety of situations and circumstances.
That being said, people tend to remember concepts more easily when they are given an opportunity to practice those concepts with some type of activity.
Practicing emergency management concepts in person during classroom training and exercises fosters and supports those all-important relationships. It is definitely still relevant, yet I think the more important consideration for emergency managers is what their goals are for becoming accomplished in their field. Engaging the private sector is mutually beneficial for both the emergency manager and the private-sector personnel, and most often brings a very different perspective to the emergency management professional about what the field means to our private-sector partners. By the time you are a senior emergency manager, you will have lots of contacts and relationships. Combining what has worked well with a fresh perspective is most likely to yield the most effective results. It is not only a great way to learn about emergency operations centers, it also provides participants with a number of contacts in other disciplines that they will most likely use throughout their career. But in what could be the next evolution of emergency management-related offerings, at least one school has launched a general education course on the topic, therefore expanding the information to students in a variety of majors and future careers.
Jensen said there was a conversation happening on campus at the time about what is general education and what the university was looking to get out of those courses. Employers are requiring a college degree to start, and for those already in the field, it is getting harder to advance without a master’s degree. Is an emergency management degree obtained over the Internet worth as much as the same one from a brick-and-mortar school? After a career of developing and delivering training programs as a practicing Certified Emergency Manager and Certified Business Continuity Professional, transferring those comfortable and familiar face-to-face interactions for the relative anonymity of a monitor and keyboard can be disconcerting. Good online teachers learn to be facilitators and moderators, encouraging participation, allowing students to be equal participants in the learning process. She builds in practical experience by requiring students to design a discussion-based exercise for a local agency or organization of their choice. At the same time, the number of students in classroom-based degree programs has decreased from 35 percent in 2009 to 10 percent in 2014.
Mayer is the author of state- and federal-level emergency management curriculum, including scenario development and exercise design.
A non-disaster event would include things like a large sporting event, political convention or parade. There are many websites that will match skills and interests with volunteer organizations, including CaliforniaVolunteers and It is OK to rely on a good team and your network of contacts to help you accomplish things and to help you focus your direction. The idea came about in spring 2011, the department applied for general education approval in fall that year, with approval being granted in spring 2012. Her family had lost everything and was struggling with the impacts from the flooding and navigating the path to receiving assistance. Students were instructed to copy short passages of the Bible and return them for grading via the new Penny Post system. The nature of emergency management requires as much practical knowledge as academic knowledge.
She also co-chairs the California Emergency Management and Homeland Security Education Consortium’s Bachelor Degree task force. It’s a four-day course and includes both a tabletop exercise and a functional exercise.
The first emergency management general education course was then offered to students the following fall semester. How many of you remember the matchbook covers offering programs to finish high school or learn a new skill? Programs should include practitioners (or former practitioners) as adjunct faculty in all related emergency management fields. I now understand what's going on after the disaster happens and what everyone is working on and some of the stuff that's involved and restrictions on aid and how that all works. I still remember when my mom’s high school diploma came in the mail and how proud she was.
Subject-matter experts in communication or public health can give students a field-level view that matches well with the academic knowledge they are acquiring.
I was able to share that with my family, and it doesn't change the stress of the situation, but we were able to understand what was going on and why it was happening that way.

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