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!