Category Archives: Education

FEMA Higher Education Project is 20 years old in 2014!

Today, Thursday 5 June 2014 the 16th Emergency Management Higher Education Symposium,  “20 Years of Emergency Management Education – The Past, The Present, The Future”  is wrapping-up at the Emergency Management Institute, (EMI) in Emmitsburg, MD. It has been a truly remarkable event!

The Library building at the Emergency Management Institute, one of several historic buildings on this beautiful campus. (photo by Ricardo A. Alvarez (c) 2014)
Building N at the Emergency Management Institute, built in 1870 it is one of several buildings on this beautiful campus that are listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. Building N houses staff of the U.S. Fire Administrator’s office, EMI and the Learning Resource Center. (photo by Ricardo A. Alvarez (c) 2014)

 It’d been a few years since I had been able to attend the hi-Ed Symposium and visit EMI, but I had not forgotten how pleasing it is to visit EMI and the beautiful campus of our National Emergency Training Center, with its historic buildings and wonderful landscaping, majestic trees, and the bonnie-rabbits that travel its grounds.

 The Opening Plenary session get going in the auditorium in Building E at EMI on Tuesday 3 June 2014 [Photo by Ricardo A. Alvarez ]The Opening Plenary session get going in the auditorium in Building E at EMI on Tuesday 3 June 2014 [Photo by Ricardo A. Alvarez ]

 One of the highlights of the Opening Plenary, on Tuesday 3 June 2014 in the Building E Auditorium, was an overview of the history of the EM Hi-Ed  Program heard in interview fashion from the voices of those who got it off the ground, B. Wayne Blanchard now retired, who served as director of the project, and Kay Goss, former FEMA Associate Director, with Tom Hirt, a training specialist at EMI with FEMA/DHS, acting as the interviewer.

Tom Hirt interviews Kay Goss and B. Wayne Blanchard on the history of the Hi-Ed Project, during the Opening Plenary of the 16th Annual Emergency Management Higher Education Symposium [Photo by Ricardo A. Alvarez]
Tom Hirt interviews Kay Goss and B. Wayne Blanchard on the history of the Hi-Ed Project, during the Opening Plenary of the 16th Annual Emergency Management Higher Education Symposium [Photo by Ricardo A. Alvarez (c) 2014]

Listening to Kay and Wayne describe the genesis of the project, the bumps on the road, and talk about he opportunities it has created , brought back a lot of memories of the days when FEMA reservists tackled the chores of disaster’s response with their empirical know-how and plenty of common sense, and of the days after hurricane Andrew in 1992/93 when a multidisciplinary wave of professionals started to join FEMA’s workforce in South Florida as ‘SDATE’ (special disaster assistance temporary employees) ‘temps’ to contribute toward the gargantuan recovery effort underway in the midst of a major disaster. It also reminded me of my initial efforts to educate all of the public assistance work force on the topic of hazard mitigation, first through a series of ad-hoc workshops and subsequently through gradually more advanced offerings, including a ‘learn-by-doing’ empirical approach I developed, which was based on field work including damage assessment, determination of causality, hazard mitigation analysis, comparison of alternatives,. selection of a preferred mitigation alternative, and benefit cost analysis of mitigation alternatives. All of this eventually led me to the development of two graduate level academic courses in ‘Hazard Mitigation’ and ‘Vulnerability Analysis’ that I taught for 17 years for the Master in Construction Management program, at the College of Engineering and Computing, Florida International University.

What amazing results are those of the Hi-Ed Project, growing from a paltry 10 institutions of higher education with some kind of an offering related to emergency management, to nearly 300 hundred by the 20th anniversary of the project, offering several bachelors. masters and doctorate degree programs. With this rich offering there are plenty of opportunities for the professionalization of the EM workforce, what is needed now is for the marketplace to catch-up with these opportunities.

The opening plenary was followed by a full program of breakout sessions starting on Tuesday morning and continuing through Wednesday and Thursday  on a wide range of topics, all related to the central focus on education of emergency management professionals.

Breakout Session: 'Integrating Emergency Management into General Education Curriculum: Ideas for Higher Education Programs. Moderator: Christine G. Springer, Ph.D., University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Presenters: Daniel Klenow, Ph.D., North Dakota State Yniversity, and Jessica James Ph.D., NDSU.
Breakout Session: ‘Integrating Emergency Management into General Education Curriculum: Ideas for Higher Education Programs. Moderator: Christine G. Springer, Ph.D., University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Presenters: Daniel Klenow, Ph.D., North Dakota State University, and Jessica James Ph.D., NDSU.

An interesting aspect of this year’s Hi-Ed symposium is that, for the first time ever, it was preceded by the ‘1st Emergency Management Theory and Research  Workshop’, which was held on Monday 2 June in Room K308, EMI. This workshop featured thirteen excellent presentations by both faculty/researchers and students on research contributions to EM education or theory. I had the privilege of being one of the invited ’emergency management scholars’ who presented at this first ever event.

I am already looking forward to 2015 and the 17th Annual Emergency Management Higher Education Symposium, for a return trip to EMI.

1st Emergency Management Theory and Research Workshop

A flurry of major disaster declarations in the late 1980s and early 1990s reminded everyone  that we inhabit a vulnerable country and planet. In 1989  major hurricane HUGO  made landfall in South Carolina and the 7.1 magnitude LOMA PRIETA earthquake, which hit the San Francisco Bay area, brought death and devastation to both coasts in the U.S.. 1992 brought another double impact by way of category 5 Hurricane ANDREW, the first named storm of a rather  slow Atlantic hurricane season, which devastated the southern region of Miami-Dade County, Florida in late August, while another major hurricane by the name of INIKI devastated Kauai, in the state of Hawaii on September 11. The MIDWEST FLOODS of 1993 were of epic proportions in terms of the magnitude of the hazard and the human suffering they caused. In 1994 the magnitude 6.7 NORTHRIDGE earthquake caused 60 deaths and extensive structural damage, and loss of property in southern California.

Six years and six major disasters that caught many by surprise or largely unprepared. Six events that raised numerous questions about the capabilities, quality and state of readiness of our emergency management resources at the federal, state and local levels. Six major hits from Mother Nature that motivated FEMA to reinvent itself, together with emergency management infrastructure at the state and local levels. These disasters also generated a new model of emergency management where mitigation became the core, around which the traditional pillars of preparedness, response and recovery must be exercised. Relative to this FEMA’s Director declared that “mitigation  is the foundation of emergency management during a ceremony to launch the “National Mitigation Strategy“.

Two rather significant developments  during this time were: (a) the realization that there was an urgent need to professionalize the emergency management sector across the nation, and (b) the discovery that in a nation with a vast and rich infrastructure of higher education, less than 1% of the total number of universities and colleges had any kind of an offering in the field of emergency management, be it by way of regular courses, seminars, certificate or degree programs. What a dilemma! Even if we wanted to create professionals in the field of emergency management, meaning individuals with approved higher education course work and preferably degrees, the stark and problematic reality was that at the time our wealth of universities and colleges had practically nothing to offer to help in this endeavor.

The shock of this findings caused FEMA to launch in 1994 its Higher Education Project,based at the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) in Emmitsburg, MD, with the objective of motivating institutions of higher learning across the USA to start including content related to all aspects of emergency management in their curricula, and also to work toward the development of degree program at the baccalaureate or advanced degree levels. The rest is history; over the years since than historic launch date, the High-Ed program has continuously added universities and colleges to a growing list of institutions of higher learning that now offer degrees ranging from bachelor’s to a Ph.D.  in a wide ranging wealth of topics.

Twenty years later, this June 1 -5  FEMA will hold its 2014 Higher Education Summit at EMI and, for the first time will also hold its 1st Emergency Management Theory and Research Workshop, where invited designated emergency management scholars will share their experiences in designing and teaching courses that are relevant to the field.

I am honored to be among those invited emergency management scholars and will be presenting on the topic of ‘Teaching about Vulnerability and Mitigation: An empirical approach‘. I will be sharing how I progressed from educating federal, state and local staff in the field while conducting damage assessments during the post-hurricane Andrew recovery phase in 1992/1993, to designing and organizing training workshops in hazard mitigation, to designing and introducing two graduate-level courses in Hazard Mitigation and Vulnerability Assessment that I taught for sixteen years. I will also present on how I added other educational offerings to respond to demand at two opposite extremes, one was an offering known as ‘Developing a culture of mitigation through education‘ for K-12 schools that was recognized as an example of ‘Best Mitigation Practices’ by FEMA in 2005, and the other a continuing education program for emergency management practitioners and professionals in several fields known as the ‘Emergency Management and Hazard Mitigation Certificate Program‘. One key aspect of my talk will be how I managed to blend empirical knowledge acquired from field observation of damaged buildings, with applied research under the state of Florida funded ‘Residential Construction Mitigation Program‘, and the implementation of hundreds of actual ‘brick and mortar’ mitigation projects, into highly practical and interactive course offerings without textbooks, but with a wealth of real-life examples that students could see and study.

I am looking forward to a rewarding and exciting experience as I prepare to participate in the 1st Emergency Management Theory and Research Workshop, and the 2014 Higher Education Summit. I shall report on my experience upon my return to the home base!